Julian Assange Can Now Seek Appeal Against US Extradition to Top UK Court

The British High Court of Justice was established on January 22, 2022. allowed WikiLeaksJulian Assange asked the U.K. Supreme Court if he could appeal the extradition order. In December 2021, the High Court overturned U.K. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January 2021 ruling denying the U.S. request for extradition.

Baraitser concluded, after a three week evidentiary hearing, that Assange would likely commit suicide if extradited in the United States to stand trial because of his mental condition and the harsh conditions under which Assange would be held.

During that hearing, the Biden administration didn’t provide the judge with any assurances that Assange would not be held in near-isolation in U.S. prisons. It was only after Baraitser denied extradition that the U.S. government came forward with “assurances” that Assange wouldn’t be subject to special administrative measures (SAMs) or be held in the ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. These so-called assurances had a loophole. They would be null and void if Assange were to commit a “future act” that “met the test” for the imposition of SAMs.

The late timing of the U.S. assurances precluded Assange’s defense from arguing that they were unreliable. Nevertheless, the High Court accepted the Biden administration’s 11th-hour assurances and ruled that Assange could be extradited to the United States.

Assange is facing 175 year imprisonment for Espionage Act charges that stem from WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. The Obama administration considered charging Assange for those revelations but declined to do so for fear of running afoul of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press. Donald Trump did, however, indict Assange. Joe Biden, however, is fighting vigorously to extradite Assange from the United States and pursue the Trump-filed charges.

High Court Rules That Assange Raised a “Point of Law of General Public Importance”

Assange requested the High Court to permit him to appeal the case directly to the U.K. Supreme Court. Although the High Court denied Assange’s application for permission to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, the High Court certified that Assange had raised a “point of law of general public importance”; that is, the propriety of the timing of the U.S. assurances. This means that it’s a proper issue for the Supreme Court to review. The High Court stated that, although the issue of assurances is central to many extradition cases it has not been resolved by the Supreme Court. Assange can now apply to the Supreme Court to have his appeal heard.

“The High Court certified that we had raised a point of law of general public importance and that the Supreme Court has good grounds to hear this appeal,” Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris said in a statement outside the courthouse after the High Court’s ruling. “The situation now is that the Supreme Court has to decide whether it will hear the appeal, but make no mistake, we won today in court.”

Assange has been held in London’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. Moris warned that Assange is still in severe confinement despite Assange’s victory at the High Court. “But let’s not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn’t dropped, as long as Julian isn’t freed, Julian continues to suffer,” she said. “He is suffering profoundly, day after day, week after week, year after year. Julian has to be freed, and we hope that this will soon end.”

Assange will likely remain in confinement if Assange are extradited. The High Court did not grant Assange’s appeals regarding inhumane or degrading treatment in U.S. prisons. This would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. International law may consider prolonged solitary confinement to be torture.

Although Amnesty International welcomed the High Court’s decision to certify the issue of the timing of the U.S. assurances, it stated in a press release, “we are concerned the High Court has dodged its responsibility to ensure that matters of public importance are fully examined by the judiciary. The courts must ensure that no one is at risk of torture or any other ill-treatment. This was at the heart of the two other issues the High Court has now effectively vetoed.”

Activists Urge Assange’s Release, Praise His Contributions to Global Peace

More than 26 peace-and-justice organizations and 2,500 activist signed a statementCalling for Assange’s immediate release and praising his contribution to global peace. Alice Walker, co-chairwoman of Assange Defense(on whose advisory committee I sit). Walker said,

He fought for justice and exposed how the United States conducted a series of horrific wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Millions of people died in these wars, mainly civilians. Assange believed U.S. war crimes were ours to know and decide for ourselves. And now it’s time for us to fight for him.

Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Member of Parliament stated, “Journalism is not a crime,” contrasting Assange’s confinement with the freedom of the war criminals he exposed. “Wikileaks exposed crimes of U.S. empire in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. The perpetrators of these crimes walk free, often still prominent public figures in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere,” Corbyn added. “They should be held accountable for the lives they destroyed and the futures they stole.”

The Appellate Process

If the U.K. Supreme Court refuses to consider Assange’s appeal or they consider it and rule against him, Assange could file a cross-appeal in the High Court. He could then request that the High Court review the issues he lost in Baraitser’s court.

Assange would argue to High Court that Assange cannot be extradited because it is a political offense; he has been charged with ulterior political motives and not in the good faith; extradition would be considered inhuman and degrading treatment. He would also lose the rights to a fair hearing and freedom to express himself, as guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights. As a last resort, Assange could appeal to European Court of Human Rights.

Assange will appeal to the Supreme Court in the meantime. This will take place within 14 days.