UK court rejects Assange’s appeal against extradition, Home Office to have final say

Assange’s lawyers are preparing to fight the case once again at the district court, on grounds that were previously raised by not considered. The Home Office decision will come after this

March 15, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch

On Monday, March 14, the United Kingdom Supreme Court rejected an appeal against extradition, filed by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The decision, as relayed by a spokesperson of the court, argued that the “the application does not raise an arguable point of law,” and is a major setback to Assange’s case against extradition.

The appeal was filed last month, after the High Court in London overturned a lower court’s ruling denying the extradition request by the United States. The High Court had nevertheless permitted Assange to file an appeal to the Supreme Court on the single point of law regarding the lateness of the US diplomatic assurances.

The decision will now be formally sent to the UK Home Office, currently headed by home secretary Priti Patel of the Conservative Party government of prime minister Boris Johnson. The extradition request was first certified in June 2019 by former home secretary Sajid Javid, of the previous Conservative Theresa May government.

However, before the final decision, the case will return to judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The Home Office will wait for the lower court’s decision to make the final judgment. After which, depending on the Home Office judgment, a fresh appeal could be filed.

“This goes to the fundamentals of press freedom and of democracy,” said Assange’s partner, Stella Moris in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. “We will fight,” she emphasized when speaking to reporters outside the courthouse. 

According to certain reports, the Home Office’s decision is not expected before June this year, which means that Assange will continue to remain in the high-security Belmarsh prison without charges. Next month will mark Assange completing three years in prison awaiting a final decision on the extradition process.

In January 2021, Baraitser had ruled to deny the US extradition request on the grounds of Assange’s deteriorating health and risk of suicide in case of imminent extradition. Now that the ruling stands overturned as per the High Court’s ruling in December 2021, Assange’s lawyers will have to revisit some of the other grounds against extradition that were previously raised in the courts but were not considered.

These may include the political nature of the ongoing indictment in the US, conditions of US prisons and even his rights as a publisher that protects him from such legal prosecutions against him. Nevertheless, Assange’s supporters have called out the threats that the Supreme Court’s decision has on journalism and press freedoms.

Moris had asserted that the struggle to free Assange is a struggle of the generation, because “Julian represents the fundamentals of what it means to live in a free society, of what it means to have press freedom, of what it means for journalists to do their job without being afraid of spending the rest of their lives in prison.”

“The UK imprisons journalists,” she added. “They are imprisoning Julian on behalf of a foreign power, which is taking an abusive, vindictive prosecution against a journalist, and this is what it’s about.”

“Julian Assange’s case is overwhelmingly in the public interest, and it deserved review by the highest court in the UK,” said Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a statement calling on secretary Patel to refuse extradition and release Assange. “After two full years of extradition proceedings, once again Assange’s fate has become a political decision.”

“The refusal is also bad news for press freedom since it leaves intact the nefarious route the US has employed to attempt to prosecute publishers for espionage,” said Amnesty International’s deputy research director for Europe, Julia Hall. “Demanding that states like the UK extradite people for publishing classified information that is in the public interest sets a dangerous precedent and must be rejected.”

US based anti-war and anti-imperialist group, CODEPINK tweeted that the rejection of the appeal was “because (Assange) dared to expose the US & UK’s warmongering in much the same light that mainstream US & UK media are currently reporting on Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine.”

If extradited, Assange will face a federal grand jury in the US for 18 counts of charges, 17 of which are under the Espionage Act. The charges together have a maximum prison sentence of 175 years. The charges are related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other violations of international law.

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

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