The U.S. government has won an appeal in a British court in its bid to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after assuring that he would not be held in a “hell-hole supermax prison” while awaiting trial.
In January, UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected an extradition request from the United States but nevertheless ordered Assange to be kept behind bars after assessing him to be a flight risk. She ordered him held in Belmarsh prison in southeast London, where he has been since the spring of 2019 after staying in the Ecuadorean embassy for the previous seven years.
In October, the U.S. appealed the January decision during a two-day hearing before Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett and Lord Justice Tim Holroyde; the justices ruled in favor of the U.S. on Friday, DailyMail.com reported.
“Assange’s lawyers claim he faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted, while adding that he would be sentenced to a hell-hole US supermax prison,” the outlet added.
However, U.S. government officials gave “diplomatic assurances” that Assange would not be subjected to those conditions, either pre-trial or post-conviction. In addition, U.S. officials suggested that Assange, 50, would only face between four and six years behind bars.
Now, the case goes to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who will make the final decision about whether to grant the extradition. That said, he is likely to appeal the higher court’s ruling, DailyMail.com noted.
“We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment. How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible, to extradite Julian to the very country which plotted to kill him?” his attorney and fiancee Stella Morris told the outlet.
“I want to emphasize that the High Court accepted all the medical evidence and the conclusions of the magistrate that if Julian is extradited and placed under extreme conditions of isolation it will drive him to take his own life, that extradition is oppressive,” she added.
“They incorporate the possibility of breaking those assurances in their very wording,” Morris continued.
“Today, it’s been almost a year since I stood outside court with our victory of the blocking of the extradition,” she said added: “To have the foremost publisher, journalist, of the past 50 years in a UK prison, accused of publishing the truth about war crimes, about CIA kill teams.”
“In fact every time we have hearings, we know more about the abusive nature, the criminal nature, of this case,” she told reporters. “This goes to the fundamentals of press freedom and democracy.”
In overruling Baraitser, the appeals court judges declared that they did not believe Assange was a flight risk.
“That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered” by the U.S. government, Lord Burnett noted. “It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.
“That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favor,” he added.
The Daily Mail reported that if extradited, Assange will most likely be sent to a federal penitentiary in Allenwood, Pa., which the U.S. government has used in the past to detain extradited prisoners.
The outlet added that Assange was charged with 17 counts under the Espionage Act relating “to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and secret cables about Guantanamo Bay.”
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