Extradition Looms for Assange After UK Supreme Court Refuses to Hear His Appeal

The British judicial system has erected still another barrier to Julian Assange’s freedom. On March 14, the U.K. Supreme Court refused to hear Assange’s appeal of the U.K. High Court’s ruling ordering his extradition to the United States. Assange could face 17 charges under the Espionage Act if extradited to the United States for trial. He could also be sentenced to up to 175 years imprisonment for revealing evidence of war crimes in the United States.

With no explanation of its reasoning, the Supreme Court denied Assange “permission to appeal” the High Court’s decision, saying that Assange’s appeal did not “raise an arguable point of law.” The court remanded the case back to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, which is the same court that denied the U.S. extradition request on January 4, 2021.

In all likelihood, the magistrates’ court will refer the case to the British Home Office where Home Secretary Priti Patel will review it. Assange’s lawyers then have four weeks to submit materials for Patel’s consideration. If she orders Assange’s extradition — which is highly likely — his lawyers will file a cross-appeal in the High Court asking it to review the issues Assange lost in the magistrates’ court.

Assange may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in the event that the High Court refuses the review of those additional issues. This could take many years. Meanwhile, he languishes in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, in fragile mental and physical health. As his extradition hearing began, he suffered a minor stroke. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer wrote in a Twitter post that the “U.K. is literally torturing him to death.”

The Legal Background

On January 24, 2022, the High Court rejected Assange’s appeal but it certified to the Supreme Court that Assange had raised a “point of law of general public importance.” This means that it is a proper issue for the Supreme Court to review. Assange was denied permission to appeal by the Supreme Court’s trio of judges.

The following was the point of law that was certified by the High Court to the Supreme Court:

“In what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings.”

The United States waited until the extradition hearing was over in order to give U.K. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser assurances regarding Assange’s treatment in U.S. prisons, if extradited.

After a three-week evidentiary hearing Baraitser ruled that Assange will attempt suicide if he is extradited to the United States to stand trial. This was due to Assange’s mental state and the harsh conditions he would be kept in U.S. prisons.

The U.S. government didn’t assure Baraitser that Assange wouldn’t be held in isolation in the United States during the hearing. After Baraitser denied extradition, the Biden administration provided “assurances” that Assange wouldn’t be subject to special administrative measures (SAMs) or be housed at the ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

But the United States’ so-called assurances contained a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. All assurances would be void if Assange committed a “future act” that “met the test” for the imposition of SAMs. Prison officials would make that subjective determination without any judicial review.

Although the late timing of the U.S.’s assurances prevented Assange’s lawyers from arguing they were unreliable and citing prior such assurances the United States failed to honor, the High Court accepted Biden’s assurances and dismissed Assange’s appeal in its January 2022 ruling.

Issues Assange Wants to Raise Cross-Appeal

In the cross-appeal, Assange’s lawyers will raise the following points:

*The extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. forbids extradition for a political offense and since espionage is a political offense, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case;

*Extradition would be oppressive or unjust due to the passage of time;

*The charges against Assange do not satisfy the “dual criminality test” which requires that they constitute criminal offenses in both the U.S. and the U.K.;

*Extradition is barred because the request is based on Assange’s political opinions;

*Extradition is barred because it would violate Assange’s rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, as well as the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment, under the European Convention on Human Rights; and

*The request for extradition is an abuse of process because it is being pursued for a political motive and not in good faith.

Human Rights Organizations Decry Supreme Court’s Refusal to Hear Appeal

Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s deputy research director for Europe, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal a “blow to Julian Assange and to justice.” Hall said, “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.” She added:

For many U.S. maximum security prisoners, prolonged solitary confinement is a fundamental feature of their lives and amounts to torture or any other ill treatment according to international law. The ban on torture or other ill-treatment is absolute. Empty promises of fair treatment like those made by the U.S.A. during the Assange case could seriously undermine this international prohibition.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), is a similar organization. expressed strong opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision. “Assange’s case is overwhelmingly in the public interest, and it deserved review by the highest court in the U.K. After two full years of extradition proceedings, once again Assange’s fate has become a political decision,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s director of operations and campaigns. “We call on the Home Office to act in the interest of journalism and press freedom by refusing extradition and releasing Assange from prison without further delay.”

Assange’s Fiancée Says U.S. For exposing its war crimes, Assange’s fiancee wants to imprison him

Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancée, says Assange is being persecuted for carrying out a core journalistic mission: telling the truth.

“Whether Julian is extradited or not, which is the same as saying whether he lives or dies, is being decided through a process of legal avoidance,” Moris said. “Avoiding to hear arguments that challenge the UK courts’ deference to unenforceable and caveated claims regarding his treatment made by the United States, the country that plotted to murder him. The country whose atrocities were made public. Julian is the key witness. [principal] indicter, and the cause of enormous embarrassment to successive US governments.”

Moris added, “Julian was just doing his job, which was to publish the truth about wrongdoing. His loyalty is the exact same as the loyalty all journalists should show: to the public. Not to the spy agencies of a foreign power.”

According to Moris, the United States wants to imprison Assange for 175 years because he “published evidence that the country that is trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; that it committed gross violations that killed tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children; that it tortured and rendered; that it bombed children, had death squads, and murdered Reuters journalists in cold blood; that it bribed foreign officials and bullied less powerful countries into harming their own citizens, and that it also corrupted allied nations’ judicial inquiries into US wrongdoing.”

Assange, Moris, and their two small children, have been granted permission to wed. They will marry in Belmarsh Prison later in the month.