Lawyers for US urge UK court to reject Assange appeal bid

Lawyers for US urge UK court to reject Assange appeal bid

Supporters of Assange and Wikileaks demonstrated outside the London court Wednesday
Supporters of Assange and Wikileaks demonstrated outside the London court Wednesday. Photo: Daniel LEAL / AFP
Source: AFP

Lawyers for the United States on Wednesday urged a UK court to block a last-ditch bid by Julian Assange to appeal his extradition to the country to face espionage charges.

Washington indicted the WikiLeaks founder multiple times between 2018 and 2020 over its publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files on the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The long-running legal saga in Britain's courts is now nearing a conclusion after Assange lost successive rulings in recent years. If he fails with this latest appeal bid, he could be extradited within weeks.

On the second of two days of evidence before two High Court judges, Clair Dobbin, a lawyer for the US government, summarised its various arguments for blocking another appeal.

She argued that Assange had "solicited" secret US military and diplomatic files and, in publishing them "indiscriminately" without redactions, that his actions were "unprecedented" and not journalism.

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"It's these facts that distinguish him -- not his political opinions," she said.

"The evidence shows that from the time the appellant started WikiLeaks... he sought to recruit individuals with access to classified information," Dobbin added. "He worked with hackers."

Washington indicted the WikiLeaks founder over its publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files
Washington indicted the WikiLeaks founder over its publication of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic files. Photo: Daniel LEAL / AFP
Source: AFP

Assange was absent from the court for the two-day session, and did not follow the proceedings via video due to illness, his lawyer told the judges Tuesday.

Dozens of his supporters massed outside on both days, demanding that the judges halt his extradition.

'Errors of law'

The Australian's lawyers had argued Tuesday that previous UK legal decisions against him contained "errors of law".

They said the US charges were "political" and he was being prosecuted "for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice of obtaining and publishing classified information".

Assange's lawyers also argued that the decades-long prison sentence he faces was "disproportionate", accusing Washington of acting in "bad faith" and contravening the extradition treaty with Britain.

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"Mr Assange was exposing serious state criminality," his lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told the court.

Major media organisations, press freedom advocates and the Australian parliament have all denounced the prosecution
Major media organisations, press freedom advocates and the Australian parliament have all denounced the prosecution. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Source: AFP

US President Joe Biden has faced domestic and international pressure to drop the 18-count indictment against Assange in a Virginia federal court filed under his predecessor Donald Trump.

Major media organisations, press freedom advocates and the Australian parliament have all denounced the prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act, which has never been used over the publishing of classified information.

But Dobbin, the lawyer for the US, noted that the prosecution had continued under two different presidential administrations because "it is based on law and evidence, not political inspiration".

"This wasn't a slip or an error, this was the publication of a vast amount of material unredacted," she said, adding it had "profound consequences" for both the US and those whose names were disclosed.

Lengthy legal fight

The hearing is likely Assange's last chance to fight extradition in Britain's courts after a years-long battle.
The hearing is likely Assange's last chance to fight extradition in Britain's courts after a years-long battle.. Photo: Daniel LEAL / AFP
Source: AFP

The hearing is likely Assange's last chance to fight extradition in Britain's courts after a years-long battle.

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The judges will deliver their decision on whether to grant him another full appeal trial at a date yet to be announced.

If they rule against him, he will have exhausted his UK legal options.

However, his wife Stella Assange has said he would then ask the European Court of Human Rights to temporarily halt the extradition, arguing that he would die if extradited.

This would need to happen within 14 days of losing the appeal bid, according to his lawyers.

Assange's wife, Stella, has argued they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if need be
Assange's wife, Stella, has argued they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if need be. Photo: Daniel LEAL / AFP
Source: AFP

The couple -- who have two children together -- met while Assange was holed up in Ecuador's London embassy for seven years from 2011.

He had fled there to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were later dropped.

He was arrested by UK police in 2019.

A UK district judge previously blocked his extradition on the grounds he would likely kill himself in US custody.

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But the High Court reversed the decision on appeal in 2021 after Washington vowed not to imprison him in its most extreme prison, "ADX Florence".

It also pledged not to subject him to the harsh regime known as Special Administrative Measures and eventually allow him to be transferred to Australia.

In March 2022, the UK's Supreme Court refused permission to appeal there, arguing that Assange had failed to "raise an arguable point of law".

Months later, the interior minister at the time, Priti Patel, formally signed off on his extradition.

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Source: AFP

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