UK ruling on Julian Assange ‘killing him slowly’, say free speech advocates

By John T Psaropoulos for Al Jazeera [Excerpts]

Free speech advocates and experts have criticized a British court judgment for failing to stop WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US.

Assange was ordered extradited from the United Kingdom in 2022 to face espionage charges in a court in Virginia in the US, and he has appealed that extradition. London’s High Court ruled [at the end of March] that it would seek assurances from the Eastern District of Virginia court that Assange would not be subject to the death penalty.

In addition, the UK court sought a written commitment that Assange would be accorded the same rights as a US citizen under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects free speech and freedom of the press. “Those [assurances] appear at face value to not be contentious and I cannot foresee the US refusing to give such assurances,” Donald Rothwell, professor of international law at Australian National University, told Al Jazeera. [In other words, calling for such assurances will not stop the extradition, only serve to give it a patina of palatability. –Change Links)

In the UK High Court’s decision, Justice Jeremy Johnson wrote “If assurances are not given then we will grant [Assange] leave to appeal without a further hearing … If assurances are given, then we will give the parties an opportunity to make further submissions before we make a final decision on the application for leave to appeal.” Rothwell said, “Assange now basically joins a queue of others seeking to have their appeals heard and determined. It is doubtful whether these processes would be completed within six months, or possibly by the end of 2024.”

That angers Assange’s friends and advocates, who say that merely fighting extradition, first from the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years, then from the Belmarsh maximum security prison for another five, has been punishment enough.

“Once again the UK justice lost an opportunity to do justice,” Stefania Maurizi, an investigative journalist at the leading Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, who has worked with WikiLeaks, told Al Jazeera. “Prominent human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, have repeatedly denounced that assurances are inherently unreliable. The British justice keeps hiding behind the fig leaf of ‘assurances’,” she said. She believes the extradition process was not an attempt at justice, but a punishment designed to dissuade other whistle-blowers, investigative journalists and publishers.

“According to protected witnesses and to a major investigation by Yahoo News, the CIA tried to destroy Julian Assange by attempting to kill or kidnap him extrajudicially,” Maurizi said. “The British justice is killing him slowly using purely legal means.”

Assange was said to be in too poor a condition to attend Tuesday’s proceedings, even via video link. “Today’s decision is astounding,” said Assange’s wife, Stella, outside the High Court. “The courts recognise that Julian is exposed to a flagrant denial of his freedom-of-expression rights, that he is being discriminated against on the basis of nationality as an Australian, and that he remains exposed to the death penalty.

“And yet, what the courts have done has been to invite a political intervention from the United States, to send a letter saying, it’s all OK.” A British judge in January 2021 had ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the US because he was likely to commit suicide in near total isolation. Stella Assange called Tuesday’s decision “an attack on Julian’s life”.

Assange supporters gathered outside the court, chanting, “There’s only one decision – no extradition,” and “Free, Free Julian Assange.”

“The UK High Court’s ruling presents the US government with another opportunity to do what it should have done long ago – drop the Espionage Act charges,” said free speech expert Jameel Jaffer, an international law professor at Columbia University, in a statement shared with Al Jazeera. “Prosecuting Assange for the publication of classified information would have profound implications for press freedom, because publishing classified information is what journalists and news organisations often need to do in order to expose wrongdoing by government,” said Jaffer, who has been deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and now directs Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute.


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