UK High Court reverses course, approves Julian Assange’s extradition to US

A UK High Court has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US.

Assange has been wanted by US authorities since the early 2010s for his role in acquiring and disseminating military and diplomatic documents via the WikiLeaks website. Following a long stint at Ecuador’s embassy in London, he was finally arrested in 2019, when his asylum was revoked. He has been indicted on 18 criminal counts, including 17 espionage charges. The collective maximum sentence for all charges comes to 175 years, but the US government has indicated that the actual imprisonment would be far, far shorter.

This decision follows an earlier ruling made in January 2021, which denied the US request based on the court’s perception that it posed too great a risk to Assange’s wellbeing. The judge forbade the extradition due to “a recurrent depressive disorder which was severe in December 2019 and sometimes accompanied by psychotic features (hallucinations), often with ruminative suicidal ideas.”

The new ruling takes concerns over Assange’s mental health into account, but it also integrates a series of four “assurances” made by US officials. These include: a promise that Assange will never be held under any “special administrative measures”; a commitment to never house him within a maximum security prison; a guarantee that he will be allowed to serve his final sentence in his native Australia, if he wishes; and a commitment to provide him with “appropriate clinical and psychological treatment as recommended by a qualified treating clinician at the prison where he is held.”

Assange’s fiancée, Stella Morris, was outraged by the decision, telling the UK’s Sky News that his legal counsel intended to appeal the decision “at the earliest possible moment.” She called the repeal a “grave miscarriage of justice,” asking how the UK could allow him to be sent to a country that “plotted to kill him.”

This final accusation likely relates to reporting from earlier this year, which claims that the Trump administration explored the possibility of forcibly kidnapping or assassinating Assange in 2017. The US government has never officially commented on this report.

Assange remains a controversial figure, with organizations like Amnesty International and individuals like Edward Snowden still calling for his release based on concerns over preserving freedom of speech and the arrest’s chilling effect on investigative journalism. The US government, however, has never wavered in its stance that the WikiLeaks founder’s actions were criminal in nature, putting lives at risk by divulging classified information to enemies of the US.

Assange’s legal team now has 14 days to file their appeal, which will delay any extradition proceedings until that filing is subsequently resolved.

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