Julian Assange Faces Ruling on Extradition to U.S.
A judge in London plans on Monday to decide whether the UK should extradite Julian Assange to the US, where the WikiLeaks founder is accused of conspiring to hack government computers and violating espionage law by confidential 2010 and 2011 Documents obtained and published.
A decision in favor of the U.S. extradition request could pave the way for a high-stakes process that Mr. Assange has tried to avoid for years and which his supporters say poses a dangerous threat to press freedom. Mr. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if found guilty of all charges.
However, if Judge Vanessa Baraitser denies the extradition request, it would bring Mr. Assange a great victory after recent US governments have increasingly used the espionage law against sources of journalists.
Here’s what you need to know about the verdict.
What are the possible outcomes?
Judge Baraitser will not decide whether Mr Assange is guilty of wrongdoing, but will decide whether the U.S. extradition request meets the requirements of a 2003 extradition treaty with Britain – namely, that the alleged crime for which Mr. Assange is wanted is possible it also led to a lawsuit in the UK, if it was done there.
If Judge Baraitser ruled in favor of extradition, the case goes to the UK Home Secretary who makes the final decision on extradition. And it would be a politically delicate decision: Mr Assange is such a high-profile figure, and the charges he is facing in the United States are so serious that a decision by the British authorities will have lasting ramifications.
However, before moving on to the Home Secretary, appeals are likely to keep the case in court for months. And should Mr Assange lose, his legal team could try to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. If he won on appeal he could be set free.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. could play a vital role in determining the fate of Mr. Assange. “If the UK judge decides in favor of extradition and the US can extradite, it will likely be up to the new president to make a decision on whether the government should continue the prosecution,” said Professor Carl Tobias Law at the University of Richmond .
As Vice President, Mr Biden called WikiLeaks founder a “high tech terrorist” in 2010, but it remains unclear what he would do as President. Mr Biden could forgive Mr Assange, or the Justice Department could drop the charges against him or continue the prosecution.
Demand for Mr. Assange’s forgiveness by President Trump has also increased in recent weeks as Mr. Trump issued a wave of pardons and commutations before his term expired.
Britain has refused several extradition requests from the United States in recent years. In 2012, she refused to extradite Gary McKinnon, a British hacker who breached US government computers in 2002 because he was too sick. In 2018, a Supreme Court ruling also blocked the extradition of Lauri Love, who was accused of breaking into US government websites.
What is the verdict and a US trial about?
A decision in favor of extradition could result in Mr Assange’s life in prison.
The US government regards Mr. Assange as a person who has endangered lives by revealing the names of US employees and informants who have provided valuable information in dangerous locations such as war zones.
“Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activity or a license to violate ordinary criminal law,” James Lewis, a US government attorney, told the UK court last year.
However, news organizations and right-wing groups say the charges against Mr. Assange pose a serious threat to freedom of the press.
“The future of journalism and press freedom is at stake here,” said Rebecca Vincent, London-based director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders.
“If the US government can extradite Mr. Assange and prosecute him in the US, it could prosecute journalists and news organizations on similar charges,” added Ms. Vincent.
Greg Barns, an Australian attorney and advisor to Mr. Assange, said, “The greatest risk he faces in the US is his failure to face a fair trial.” Mr Barns added: “He could spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, treated cruelly and arbitrarily.”
Why is Mr. Assange in a UK prison?
In 2012, Mr Assange entered the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid an extradition request from Sweden where he was on allegations of rape. He spent seven years at the embassy but was arrested by British police in 2019 and later sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail on entering the embassy.
The charges in Sweden have been dropped and Mr Assange has completed his 50-week sentence. He is not charged with any crime outside of the US, but he remains in Belmarsh Prison in London while the UK decides on his extradition. His bail requests were denied.
Several doctors have said that Mr. Assange suffers from depression and memory loss and could try to commit suicide if extradited.
Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and ill-treatment who investigated Mr. Assange in prison, said last year that his detention was “psychological torture”.
“I can confirm that his health has seriously deteriorated to the point where his life is now in danger,” said Mr Melzer last month when he asked Mr Trump to apologize to Mr Assange.
Why is Mr. Assange wanted in the United States?
Assange, 49, was charged with 17 espionage law violations in 2019 for obtaining and disclosing classified military and diplomatic documents. He was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Mr Assange’s promotion of government transparency has made him a hero to many, but he has also been criticized as a advertiser with an unpredictable personality.
The publication of the material exposed various crimes and misconduct committed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rights groups have welcomed their release as valuable information for the public. Right groups like Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International have called for all charges to be dropped.
“The activities Julian Assange is involved in are activities in which journalists are constantly involved,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International expert on counter-terrorism and criminal justice in Europe. “Without them we would have no information.”
What happened during the extradition negotiations?
The hearings were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and technical glitches that rights groups said were affecting their ability to monitor.
In February, Mr Assange appeared in a glass box that observers said he could not hear properly. In September, following an outbreak on Mr Assange, the judge warned that if he continued to interrupt prosecutors, he would be removed from the courtroom. Mr. Lewis, who worked for the US government, argued that Mr. Assange was extradited for disclosing the names of informants, not for handling leaked documents.
In their closing remarks, Mr Assange’s lawyers argued that allegations of espionage were a political crime and that extradition for a political crime was excluded by the extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States.
When asked if he would consent to extradition to the United States, Mr. Assange replied, “No.”