The UK High Court has granted the US government’s appeal over the refusal to extradite WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, opening the door for his eventual trial on American soil on espionage charges.
In January, a district court denied the US extradition request, citing the vulnerable mental state of the publisher and the possibility that he would take his own life if subjected to brutal prison conditions in the US.
The High Court’s ruling is not final since it can be appealed. Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, called the decision “a grave miscarriage of justice.” The case has been remitted to the Westminster Magistrates Court.
BREAKING: High Court decision “Grave miscarriage of justice,” says Julian Assange’s fiancée, as a UK court overturns an earlier decision blocking the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States | @StellaMoris1 #FreeAssangeNOW #AssangeCase pic.twitter.com/Jc98oAfvuP— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) December 10, 2021
The High Court said it was satisfied with the US lawyer’s assurances that the so-called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) would not be applied to Assange when in US custody. An earlier refusal to extradite him was partially justified by the fact that he could be subjected to SAMs. The US team argued during appeal hearings that if the American side knew it was an issue, they would have offered assurances to the contrary during the original process.
SAMs are special restrictions that the US prison system may order for inmates deemed to be dangerous. They include isolation from other prisoners at a maximum security facility. Critics say they are dehumanizing and in some cases may amount to psychological torture.
Assange has been in various forms of isolation since June 2012, when he sheltered at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He was granted sanctuary there due to an ongoing extradition process at the request of Sweden, which at the time was seeking to investigate him over allegations that he had sex with two women without receiving their consent to not use protection. The charges have since been dropped.
The Australian said the prosecution by Sweden was a ruse meant to get him on Swedish soil, where he would be subjected to an extradition request by the US. He breached the bail granted to him by the UK justice system after taking refuge at the embassy.
After a new government took power in Ecuador, which then sought rapprochement with the US, Assange’s situation at the embassy became insecure. In 2019, Metropolitan police were invited in to take him into custody. He was convicted of skipping bail and retained at the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison for the duration of his US extradition trial.
While at the embassy, Assange was subjected to secret surveillance, allegedly conducted by a security firm hired to protect the embassy and compromised by the CIA. The US spy agency also reportedly contemplated kidnapping or even assassinating Assange, after WikiLeaks obtained a trove of files related to the CIA’s hacking tools, which the transparency organization dubbed ‘Vault 7’.
The US charged Assange with a number of crimes related to his communications with whistleblowers, most importantly Chelsea Manning, who leaked to WikiLeaks classified materials about US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted.
Assange supporters say he is being persecuted for exposing the crimes of the US government and its allies, and that countries prosecuting him are effectively discouraging investigative journalism on a global scale.