On July 7, 2021, the British High Court announced that it would hear the U.S.’s appeal in the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Previously, in January 2021, the British lower court blocked U.S.’ efforts to extradite Assange, citing flaws in the U.S. federal penal system, particularly its inability to protect offenders with mental illnesses.
The District Court Judge that presided over that January hearing said that Assange is already at an increased risk of suicide and that allowing him to serve his sentence in the U.S. puts him at an even greater risk. “I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him,” said District Judge Vanessa Baraitser.
U.S.’ Persistent Efforts to Convict Assange
An email sent to New York Times Reporter Charlie Savage from the Crown Prospection Services press office revealed that the High Court accepted three grounds for appeal. Documents also revealed that if Assange were to be extradited and convicted, the U.S. promises not to impose the harsh and confinement conditions and will allow him to service in his native Australia— a move that would be unprecedented for the Justice Department. “The United States has also provided an assurance that the United States will consent to Mr. Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him,” documents stated.
U.S. legal battle to extradite the WikiLeaks founder dates back to January 2017. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department initially sought his arrest then moved to seek extradition in 2019. Many of Assange’s supporters lobbied on his behalf to drop the extradition request but to no avail. Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancée, requested that Biden drop the extradition request against Assange, saying, “End the prosecution, protect free speech and let Julian come home to his family.”
Assange’s Alleged Crimes
If convicted in the U.S., Assange faces 18 counts of breaking espionage laws and computer hacking charges. The charges are in reference to Assange’s alleged involvement in publishing documents dating back to 2010 and 2011 that revealed classified information on the American campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent results.
Since 2019, Assange has been held in the U.K. at the Belmarsh prison. Assange continues to defend his work and does not consider it a crime but merely public interest journalism.
This high-profile case has generated controversy and conversations around the free press and a threat to journalists interested in publishing government secrets.
The fact that the U.K. court has denied extradition requests to the U.S. on the grounds that the U.S. penal system is unsafe, cruel, and inhumane should raises alarms about the U.S. penal system and its desperate need for reform.
An unusual element of the U.S. appeal is that the U.S. has given assurances that, if convicted, Assange would be able to transfer to Australia to service his sentence. Normally, a convicted person has to wait several months before he applies to transfer and is successful less than 40% of the time, especially on the initial application. Even when he is successful, it normally takes about two years for an individual to be able to transfer.
The July issues of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of this topic.