UK court delays Assange’s extradition to the US pending assurances about his fate

High Court judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson will allow the WikiLeaks co-founder to appeal his transfer if the American government does not provide guarantees that his life and rights will be upheld

Julian Assange
Activists supporting Julian Assange on February 21 outside the High Court of Justice in London.Leon Neal (Getty Images)
Rafa de Miguel

Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales have listened to the clamor in defense of press freedom and will allow Julian Assange to appeal his extradition order to the United States before the British courts unless the U.S. government offers a series of guarantees. The case against the Wikileaks co-founder, who is still locked up in a maximum security prison outside London, will thus be prolonged for at least a few more weeks and his surrender will be placed on hold, pending a new court session.

Stella Assange, his wife, arrived shortly after 10 a.m. to pick up the ruling, which came after a two-day hearing in February when the court heard arguments against and in favor of extraditing Assange.

The judges found that Assange has a strong legal basis to appeal his extradition on three specific grounds. The U.S. government, the verdict says, must ensure that his freedom of speech under the First Amendment of its own Constitution will be protected; also, that the Australian publisher will receive a fair trial with full guarantees, and that he will not get the death penalty.

Sharp and Johnson gave the lawyers representing the U.S. government three weeks to file those guarantees, failing which Assange may go ahead and appeal the extradition.

The thousands of activists, governments and institutions that support the Australian journalist expressed some degree of satisfaction, but continued to denounce the fact that he remains behind bars. Dozens of supporters showed up outside the High Court early on Tuesday.

The extradition was greenlighted in 2022 by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, after the Supreme Court accepted the guarantees offered by Washington regarding the safety of the prisoner, and the measures that would be adopted to prevent him from taking his own life.

American prosecutors have charged Assange on 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. The Australian journalist could be facing a prison term of 175 years for leaking over 250,000 classified cables from the U.S. State Department in November 2010. EL PAÍS was one of the media outlets that published the documents.

The case against Assange has become a global cause for freedom of the press. The campaign was not so much aimed at judges, who have been passing the hot potato, but at the U.S. and U.K. governments, which have the power to end the legal proceedings.

Assange has been held at Belmarsh maximum security prison for nearly five years now. His health has been deteriorating drastically, to the point that he was unable to be present at the hearings, even by video link. His wife, Stella Assange, told EL PAÍS in an interview shortly after the February hearings that extradition to the United States would put his life at risk. “He can die, because he could end up being sentenced to the death penalty. The British government itself has admitted that it is unable to guarantee that they will not kill him,” said the human rights lawyer, who has two children with Assange aged five and six.

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