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London court ruling due in US govt appeal on Assange extradition

By AFP
10 December 2021   |   11:50 am
Two judges in London will on Friday rule on a US government appeal against a decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain.

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Two judges in London will on Friday rule on a US government appeal against a decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain.

Washington wants to put the 50-year-old Australian national on trial for publishing classified military documents relating to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But a judge at a lower court blocked the extradition in January, assessing that he was at risk of suicide in the US justice system.

Lawyers for the US government, however, argued in October that the judge had not given sufficient weight to other expert testimony about Assange’s mental state.

They also sought to assure the court that he would not be held in punishing isolation at a federal supermax prison, and would receive appropriate treatment.

Two appeal judges will give their judgment in the long-running case at 1015 GMT.

The case has become a cause celebre for free speech, with Assange’s supporters arguing WikiLeaks has the same rights as other media to publish secret material in the public interest.

Previous hearings have seen court buildings thronged by pro-Assange supporters waving placards and demanding his immediate release.

The US government has indicted Assange on 18 charges relating to WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of 500,000 secret files on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If extradited, tried and convicted, he could be jailed for up to 175 years, although the exact sentence is difficult to estimate and could be shorter.

Assange himself has been in custody since 2019, despite having served a previous sentence for breaching bail conditions in a separate case.

The maverick publisher spent seven years at Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid being removed to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations that were later dropped.

While at the South American country’s mission, he fathered two children with his partner, Stella Moris, a member of his legal team.

British prison authorities last month gave the couple permission to marry at the Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.

Friday’s decision is not likely to be the end of the matter. Should the US government win, the case will be sent back to the lower court to be heard again.

Whoever loses can also ask for permission for a further, final appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court.