Mar 26, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Julian Assange avoids extradition to U.S. for now, U.K. court rules

Assange supporters outside London's high court

Julian Assange supporters gather outside the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on Feb. 20. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images

A U.K. court signaled Tuesday that it will allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to appeal his extradition if the U.S. does not provide certain assurances about his rights.

Why it matters: Assange has been fighting extradition to the U.S. over charges stemming from one of the largest classified intelligence leaks in American history.

The latest: The U.K.'s Royal Courts of Justice in London has given the U.S. until April 16 to offer "assurances" over Assange's First Amendment rights and that he would not face the death penalty, per court documents posted by WikiLeaks on X.

  • "In the event that no assurances are filed by then, leave to appeal will be granted," the ruling added.
  • Another hearing has been set for May 20 to determine if the assurances are satisfactory, per NBC News.

State of play: Assange was arrested in 2019 after leaving London's Ecuadorian Embassy after a seven-year stay there.

  • He faces 18 counts in the U.S. for violating the Espionage Act and hacking government computers over WikiLeaks' publication of classified documents. He faces life in prison in the U.S. if he is convicted on all charges.
  • In February, judges with London's High Court heard arguments from Assange's lawyer that he was being prosecuted for his political views and that extradition would encroach on his right to free speech.
  • The hearing marked Assange's last legal avenue in the U.K. to avoid extradition.

Zoom in: Assange has long argued he was acting as a journalist when he published leaked U.S. government documents on Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • "He is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and important public interest," Edward Fitzgerald, Assange's lawyer, told the court Tuesday, AP reported.
  • Assange acted to expose U.S. government "criminality" and extraditing him would result in a "flagrant denial of justice," Fitzgerald said.
  • However, the U.S. prosecutors argue Assange's actions put U.S. agents' lives at risk, per Reuters.

The big picture: Assange's case raises questions about First Amendment protections for publishers of classified information.

  • "The risk to publishers and investigative journalists around the world hangs in the balance. Should Julian Assange be sent to the US and prosecuted there, global media freedoms will be on trial, too," Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counterterrorism and criminal justice in Europe, said in a statement last week.
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