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Julian Assange Extradition to U.S. Approved by UK Court

Julian Assange Extradition to U.S. Approved by UK Court

British authorities have granted Julian Assange leave to appeal his U.S. extradition order in a victory for the WikiLeaks founder amid his ongoing legal battle.

The two U.K. judges deferred a decision in March on whether Assange, who is hoping to avoid being prosecuted in the States over espionage charges, could take his case to another appeal hearing.

The 52-year-old has been granted an appeal only if the Biden administration was unable to provide the court with suitable assurances, including that he is ensured freedom of speech protections and will not receive the death penalty.

The decision follows a British court ruling in April 2022 that Assange could be sent to the U.S. That ruling came after a legal battle that went all the way to the U.K. Supreme Court. Assange’s appeal was his only remaining legal avenue in the U.K. justice system.

The U.S. had asked British authorities to extradite the controversial Assange so he can stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of a huge trove of classified documents more than a decade ago. American prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Journalism organizations and human rights groups have called on Britain to refuse the extradition request. Supporters and lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is therefore entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated.

Assange’s lawyers previously said he could face up to 175 years in prison if he is convicted in the U.S., though American authorities previously said any sentence was likely to be much lower than that.

Supporters of Assange gathered outside the High Court on Monday as they held up signs that read: “Publishing is not a crime. War crimes are.”

Assange, who was born in Australia and founded WikiLeaks in 2006, had been held at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

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Hollywood has regularly taken note of Assange and WikiLeaks. The Fifth Estate, a 2013 biographical thriller film directed by Bill Condon about the website and its founder, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange and Daniel Brühl as its former spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney are also part of the cast. Assange launched a campaign against the movie, which culminated in WikiLeaks offering free downloads of its own documentary Mediastan just as Fifth Estate was released in North America by Disney’s Touchstone label.

Meanwhile, CitizenFour director Laura Poitras made the documentary Risk, which premiered at Cannes in 2016, about Assange and his WikiLeaks team.

And Pamela Anderson expressed a profound connection with the WikiLeaks founder built on mutual respect in her memoir Love, Pamela.

British designer Vivienne Westwood has also repeatedly made headlines related to Assange, for example when she created a T-shirt in support of the WikiLeaks founder.

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