Jekaterina Saveljeva

Assange appeals against Priti Patel’s extradition order

WikiLeaks founder is expected to raise concerns over the political nature of his prosecution, the likelihood of him receiving a fair trial, and the risk of a coercive plea bargain

Julian Assange has filed an appeal against the UK home secretary’s decision to extradite him to the US to face hacking and espionage charges.

The appeal comes two weeks after Priti Patel signed an order to extradite the co-founder of WikiLeaks to the US.

The 50-year-old faces a maximum sentence of 175 years after being charged with 17 counts under the US Espionage Act for receiving and publishing classified government documents, and one count under the Computer Fraud and Misuse Act.

Assange has been held in Belmarsh high security prison since 2019 after being forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Assange’s legal team are expected to seek leave to re-open arguments that were originally rejected by the chief magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, during Assange’s trial at Westminster Magistrates Court in 2001.

Questions over ‘political’ charges

Any appeal is expected to raise questions over the political nature of the charges against Assange, which centre on WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of documents leaked by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 and 2011.

The documents revealed evidence of war crimes, torture and civilian deaths during the Iran and Iraq wars, and the role of the US in rendering terrorist suspects to “black sites” for torture and interrogation of detainees.

Assange is also likely to argue that the passage of time since the alleged offences were committed, and his indictment on espionage charges nine years later, make it impossible to mount a proper legal defence, because he no longer has access to records and documents from that period.

His lawyers have previously argued that Assange, who will be tried in the Eastern District of Virginia, is unlikely to face a fair trial in an area where many potential jurors are likely to have links to the US intelligence agencies or the defence industry.

Assange is likely to argue that he will face pressure to accept a “coercive plea bargain” from prosecutors who will offer a lower sentence in return for a guilty plea and may threaten harsh penalties if Assange opts for a trial and loses the case.

Another issue in the appeal is likely to be the impact of extradition on Assange’s family, including his young children if their father is sent to the US.

Espionage Act

The case represents the first time that the US Espionage Act, originally enacted to prosecute spies during the First World War, has been used to bring charges against an individual for receiving and publishing classified information.

It has led to calls from journalists, doctors, MPs and civil society groups to end a case that is likely to have damaging repercussions for journalists and whistleblowers who leak or receive government documents.

London’s High Court ruled that Assange could be extradited to the US in December 2021 after judges accepted diplomatic assurances from the US that that it would take steps to mitigate Assange’s risk of suicide in a US prison.

The decision reversed a ruling by district judge Vanessa Baraitser, who found that Assange had mental health conditions that would put him at risk in the harsh conditions he would face in US prisons.

Lord Chief Justice Ian Duncan Burnet said he was satisfied that the US assurances excluded the possibility of Assange being made subject to special administrative measures (SAMs) or held at the ADX facility – a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado.

The US also gave undertakings that it would consent to an application by Assange to be transferred to Australia to serve his sentence, if convicted.

It said Assange would receive “appropriate clinical and psychological treatment as recommended by a qualified treating physician” in a US prison.

The assurances applied either pre-trial or after any conviction, unless Assange “committed any act in future” which rendered him liable to detention in those conditions.

Assange’s wife, Stella Moris, said in a statement on 22 June that no journalist would want to risk what Assange has been through.

“What has long been understood to be a bedrock principle of democracy – press freedom – will disappear in one fell swoop,” she said.

Celebrities including investigative journalist John Pilger and singer Dave Rovics, and relatives of Assange, joined a red London bus on Friday to protest about the extradition.

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