The Memo: The legal battle of Julian Assange: WikiLeaks founder wins the right to appeal extradition to the US

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The legal battle of Julian Assange: WikiLeaks founder wins the right to appeal extradition to the US

Erin Bradbury - 3 June 2024

Almost 15 years ago, one of the largest security breaches in American military history occurred. Around half a million classified documents linked to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were published by WikiLeaks, including a video of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people. So, in 2019, a federal grand jury found that the actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm/and or arbitrary detention. As a result, Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been indicted of17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuseHe is now facing up to 175 years(!) in prison, though the US government says it’s likely that he’ll get four to six. 

So, how did Assange end up in the High Court? Well, after a European arrest warrant was issued for an unrelated investigation and Assange lost the appeal in 2010, he left Sweden and took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012, where he remained for seven years. Upon ending his stay, the US extradition request was granted and the legal battle against extradition continued. Just this month, the High Court blocked Assange’s extraditiondetermining that he needs to be given a full appeal in the UK. 

However, the court ruled that Assange could appeal extradition to the US, whose government assured that he wouldn’t receive the death penalty in the UShe’d be able to rely on the First Amendment (which protects free speech), and his Australian nationality wouldn’t count against him. The former wasn’t contested, but judges granted Assange leave to appeal his extradition on the basis of whether he’d be granted the right to freedom of expression (which is similar to the US First Amendment) in line with the European Convention of Human Rights or if he’d be prejudiced at trial or by his nationalityWhy is this? Well, there are legal challenges and uncertainties relating to US assurances as to whether Assange, as a foreigner, is entitled to First Amendment rights, particularly when the case concerns national securityAnd so, the saga continues...