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London court set to rule on Julian Assange extradition

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could find out on Monday whether he has won a reprieve in his last-ditch UK legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States.

The Australian national, aged 52, is seeking permission to appeal against a ruling allowing him to be sent to face a US trial on espionage charges.

The two High Court judges in London handling Assange’s request adjourned the case in March, asking US government lawyers to return with “satisfactory assurances” about free speech protections and that he would not face the death penalty if convicted, reports AFP.

Those submissions are expected to be presented at a hearing on Monday, and the judges could issue a ruling immediately afterwards.

If his appeal is successful, Assange will have further opportunities to argue his case before the UK’s domestic courts.

If he loses, he will have exhausted all his UK legal options and could be swiftly extradited, ending a five-year legal battle that has pitted the Washington and London governments against free-speech campaigners.

Assange’s only hope would then be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which could order a stay on the extradition if it decides there are “exceptional circumstances”.

It would also require London to accept the order, which is uncertain given the ongoing dispute with the European court which blocked the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Assange has been detained in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, southeast London, since April 2019.

He was arrested after spending seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped.

– ‘Corrupt’ –

The US authorities want to put the publisher on trial for divulging US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange is accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents relating to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.

The United States is attempting to convict Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, which his supporters warn mean he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.

The UK courts approved the extradition request after the United States vowed to not imprison him in its most extreme prison, “ADX Florence”, nor to subject him to the harsh regime known as “Special Administrative Measures”.

His supporters last Wednesday criticised the legal proceedings he has faced.

“It is abundantly clear of course that the process in the court in the United Kingdom is corrupt. The case is rigged against Julian,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, told reporters.

Stella Assange said she hoped her husband would be present at Monday’s hearing but added that she did not expect the judges to rule in his favour.

“I don’t expect a rational outcome from the courts, I’m afraid to say,” she said.

Assange’s supporters say his health is fragile and the Council of Europe this week voiced concern about his treatment.

The United States indicted Assange multiple times between 2018 and 2020 but President Joe Biden has faced persistent domestic and international pressure to drop the case filed under his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden indicated recently that the United States was considering a request from Australia to drop the charges.

“President Biden has the chance still to be the president who put an end to this, who acted in the interest of press freedom in journalism,” said Rebecca Vincent, of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).