Julian Assange’s extradition appeal hangs in the balance as UK court seeks US “assurances”

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Original article by Tanupriya Singh republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.

Protesters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday. Photo: Free Assange UK Campaign/X

The UK High Court has granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange provisional permission to appeal his extradition to the US, on grounds including the risk of the death penalty.

The UK High Court has granted provisional permission to journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to appeal his extradition to the US. The ruling was handed down by judges Dame Victoria Sharp and Justice Jeremy Johnson in London on March 26, as supporters of Assange gathered outside the court to demand his freedom.

The US has sought to extradite Assange to prosecute him on 18 charges, 17 of which are under the draconian Espionage Act, for the publication of classified documents on WikiLeaks exposing war crimes and human rights abuses committed by US forces, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The extradition was approved by the UK Home Office in 2022, protracting an already difficult legal battle for the imprisoned journalist. Assange has been held at the Belmarsh high security prison for five years without a trial or conviction.

In its decision, the Court has granted Assange permission to appeal against his extradition, with the matter adjourned till May 20. However, the appeal will proceed only if the US and the UK are unable to provide the Court with assurances regarding Assange’s treatment following an extradition.

The US and the UK have until April 16 to file these assurances. This will also pave the way for further submissions to be made before a final decision is reached.

In the meantime, the temporary permission to appeal has been granted on three out of nine grounds including: a) that extradition may be “incompatible with the right of freedom of expression” under the European Convention on Human Rights; and b) that the applicant (Assange) might be “prejudiced on grounds of nationality” which is related to whether or not he will be protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution given that Assange is not a citizen.

The third ground of appeal upheld by the Court for now is “inadequate speciality protection/death penalty protection”, which bars extradition under the UK’s 2003 Extradition Act.

In the application, Assange’s legal team noted that despite the fact that none of the charges leveled by the US as part of the extradition request carry the death penalty, the accusations made against him could lead to additional charges of aiding and abetting treason, which would be capital offenses.

They further highlighted statements made by US officials, including by Donald Trump, former president and potential Republican candidate for the upcoming US election, calling for the death penalty for Assange.

During the two-day “permission hearing” held in February ahead of the March 26 decision, the US prosecution admitted that there were no assurances that Assange would not be handed the death penalty.

Read more: US obfuscates and misrepresents on second day of Assange hearings

The US now has three weeks to provide the Court with “satisfactory assurances” that Assange will be permitted to rely on the First Amendment (protecting free speech), that he will not be prejudiced at trial (including sentence) because of nationality (his status as non- US citizen), that he will be afford the same protections under the First Amendment as a US citizen, and that the death penalty will not be imposed.

This is not the first time that such proposals have been made in Assange’s case. In fact, despite a lower court acknowledging Assange’s risk of suicide in 2021, his extradition was approved based on “diplomatic assurances” given by the US.

These included that Assange would not be subject to brutal Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), that he would not be kept at the ADX Florence maximum security prison, and that he could serve a custodial sentence in Australia, his country of origin. However, these protections would not apply if Assange was deemed to have committed a “future act” that could necessitate SAMs.

The entirely unilateral nature of these assurances raised alarm, especially given that these actions would be at the discretion of US prison authorities and not subject to judicial review.

“The UK remains intent on extraditing Assange despite the grave risk that he will be subjected to torture or ill-treatment in the US,” Simon Crowther, Legal Adviser at Amnesty International, said in response to Tuesday’s ruling.

“While the US has allegedly assured the UK that it will not violate Assange’s rights, we know from past cases that such ‘guarantees’ are deeply flawed — and the diplomatic assurances so far in the Assange case are riddled with loopholes.”

Meanwhile, the Court dismissed critical grounds for appeal raised by Assange’s team, in particular that the extradition was for a political offense, and as such prohibited under the UK-US Extradition Treaty. Assange’s lawyers had argued in February that espionage was universally accepted as a political offense, given that it was an offense directed at the state.

“These were the most important revelations of criminal US state behavior in history,” Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, had told the Court regarding the materials published by WikiLeaks. This included the “Collateral Murder Video” in which a US Army Apache helicopter had killed 11 unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Read more: Assange’s Last Stand

Addressing the press outside the court, Assange’s wife, Stella, stated that the decision was “astounding”. She pointed out that though the Court had recognized the violation of Julian Assange’s rights, “what the Courts have done have done [is] to invite a political intervention from the United States to send a letter saying ‘it’s all okay’. Five years into this case, the US has managed to show the Court that their case remains an attack on press freedom, an attack on Julian’s life.”

“What the Courts have not agreed to look at is the evidence that the US has plotted to assassinate Julian, to kidnap him, because if it acknowledged that then of course he cannot be sent to the US.”

The Court astonishingly justified its refusal to admit this new evidence, of a plot by the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to kidnap and assassinate Assange, stating that “on the face of the allegations…the contemplation of extreme measures against the applicant (whether poisoning for example or rendition) were a response to the fear that the applicant might flee to Russia”.

“The rationale for such conduct is removed if the applicant is extradited. Extradition would result in him being lawfully in the custody of the US authorities, and the reasons (if they can be called that) for rendition or kidnap or assassination then fall away”.

Meanwhile, Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, reiterated that the fact that the Court had sought political assurances from the US revealed the political nature of the case itself.

Stella Assange added, “Julian is a political prisoner, he is a journalist, and he is being persecuted because he exposed the true cost of war in human lives. This case is a retribution, it is a signal to all of you, that if you expose the interests that are driving war they will come after you, they will put you in prison and they will try to kill you.”

“The Biden administration should not issue assurances, they should drop this shameful case that should have never been brought,” she said, calling people to pressure the US government and to support House Resolution 934.

The text, which is in the US Congress, states that “regular journalistic activities, including the obtainment and publication of information, are protected under the First Amendment and that the federal government should drop all charges against and attempts to extradite Julian Assange.”

“If Julian goes down for this, every serious journalist around the world is going to be slightly more cautious about exposing war crimes, corporate greed…We need the maximum pressure all across the US on the Biden administration, on the candidates in the forthcoming election, to say ‘Drop the charges against Julian Assange,’” MP and former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Democracy Now.

If the UK High Court does not grant Assange the permission to appeal, he will have exhausted his options within the country’s legal system, and will have to approach the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), immediately seeking an interim measure against the extradition under Rule 39 (“risk of irreparable harm”) pending a full hearing of the case. The ECHR’s verdict will be binding on the UK.

Original article by Tanupriya Singh republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.

Continue ReadingJulian Assange’s extradition appeal hangs in the balance as UK court seeks US “assurances”

UK court to hear Assange’s final appeal against extradition in February

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Original article by Anish R M republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.

In the hearing, two judges will review an earlier decision to reject Assange’s appeal against his extradition to the US

The High Court of Justice in London has decided to hear what could be Julian Assange’s final appeal against his extradition to the United States. A statement released by Wikileaks on Tuesday, December 19, announced that the High Court has confirmed a two-day hearing on February 20-21, 2024.

The two-day hearing will be held before a bench of two judges and review the decision by Justice Jonathan Swift of the High Court to reject Assange’s plea against his extradition. In this last ditch attempt by Assange’s defense, the two judges will decide whether the Wikileaks founder will have any further chance to appeal his case in a British court or prepare for the looming extradition.

The 3-page long decision by Justice Swift handed down on June 6 this year, rejected all eight grounds of appeal raised by Assange’s defense team. The appeal, if approved by the High Court, will challenge the extradition sanctioned by the UK Home Office in June 17, 2022

Immediately after the court announced the dates, supporters and press freedom advocates called for a protest demonstration to be held outside the courthouse in London and in cities around the world, on the first day of the hearing.

John Rees of the Free Assange Campaign said in the Wikileaks statement that if the US is allowed to “get away with [their attempts to prosecute Assange], they will have succeeded in redefining journalism as spying.”

Stating that the extradition and a federal trial will have an impact on all journalists and broadcasters, Rees said that “every journalist will be intimidated. Every newspaper and journalist will look at material critical of the government and feel significant pressure not to publish for fear of prosecution and imprisonment.”

“This is the most important press freedom case of the 21st century and we need to ensure we don’t lose any hard-won freedoms.”

If extradited, Assange will stand trial before a federal grand jury in the US on 18 charges that carry a combined prison sentence of 175 years. Of the 18 charges leveled against him, 17 are under the infamous US Espionage Act.

Stella Assange, advocate and Julian’s wife, raised concerns of his safety and the nature of the looming trial in the event the US does succeed in his extradition. She, along with other members of Assange’s family and his colleagues, have been campaigning for his release ever since he was arrested in April 2019.

“With the myriad of evidence that has come to light since the original hearing in 2019, such as the violation of legal privilege and reports that senior US officials are involved in formulating assassination plots against my husband, there is no denying that a fair trial, let alone Julian’s safety on US soil, is an impossibility were he to be extradited,” she said. “The persecution of this innocent journalist and publisher must end.”

Read more: Julian Assange case: 4 things that the media doesn’t tell you

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, also echoed these concerns. “There is no press without the protection to operate freely,” Hrafnsson said. “Julian’s case is a landmark moment; the UK needs to decide if it wishes to be a haven for free press or if it wishes to be complicit in the degradation of a core value of our democracy.”

The US indictment against Assange, initiated under the Donald Trump administration and continued under President Joe Biden, is the first time ever a publisher has been charged under the Espionage Act.

In the meantime, Assange has remained imprisoned without charges since April 2019, in a high-security prison in Belmarsh on the outskirts of London, at the behest of the extradition request by the US.

His extradition was initially rejected by a district judge in London in January 2021 on grounds of Assange’s mental health and the risk of suicide and other bodily harm if he was extradited.

This decision was overturned by the High Court in London in December that year based on diplomatic assurances given by the US after the district court’s decision. In June 2022, the UK Home Office sanctioned the extradition based on the High Court’s decision.

US lawmakers call for Assange’s release

Even as the UK prepares for the court hearing in February, calls for Assange’s release have reached the US Congress.

A bipartisan resolution was introduced on December 16, in the US House of Representatives by Republican representative Paul Gosar, and co-sponsored by eight congress members seeking to drop all charges against Assange.

The draft resolution seeks to drop all charges against Assange and reinforce the fact that his journalistic activities, including the publication of classified government documents and diplomatic cables to expose US war crimes and other wrongdoings, were protected under the First Amendment rights of the US Constitution.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the likes of James McGovern, Thomas Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Ilhan Omar, also highlighted that the successful prosecution of Assange “would set a precedent allowing the United States to prosecute and imprison journalists for First Amendment protected activities, including the obtainment and publication of information, something that occurs on a regular basis.”

Similarly on November 14, another bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by McGovern and Massie, sent a letter to president Biden calling for the charges to be dropped. Aside from co-sponsors of the House draft resolution mentioned above, the signatories to the letter include the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Presley, and Rand Paul.

Original article by Anish R M republished from peoples dispatch under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.


Continue ReadingUK court to hear Assange’s final appeal against extradition in February

Appeal against the bedroom tax!

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There’s a judgement that says a bedroom is a room furnished as a bedroom or used to sleep in. All bedroom tax decisions can be appealed. Time is running out to appeal.

The Bedroom Tax is Dead here’s why | SPeye Joe (Welfarewrites)

Bedroom Tax – Finally Killed by Plain Old Common-Sense?

The effect of this outbreak of common-sense is that, potentially, any or all of the original Bedroom Tax decisions taking effect last April are wrong – as councils cannot have known the actual situation and were making decisions based on an assumption that the rooms concerned were bedrooms. What’s more, despite the time elapsed since then, these decisions are still appealable – appeals can be accepted up to thirteen months after the date of the original decision. This clearly makes it important to act quickly. Anyone in any doubt about the correctness of their Bedroom Tax decision should write to the local authority decision-maker and seek an appeal in their own individual case. But this must be done soon – it will probably be too late by April.

The implications of this legal development may even go so far as to invalidate all of the decisions. If a room isn’t habitually used as a bedroom, it may fall outwith the normal everyday definition of the word – and therefore beyond the scope of the legislation as it stands. Technically, in order to assess whether a particular room qualifies as a “bedroom”, the local authority would have to go out and inspect it. In practice, this would be a task on a scale made impossible by limitations on resources. But unless a property has been thus assessed, then no decision can properly be made.


Continue ReadingAppeal against the bedroom tax!