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British court rules Julian Assange extradition on pause until US guarantees no death penalty

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The British High Court on Tuesday ruled that the U.S. cannot extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on espionage charges unless American officials assure that he will not face the death penalty for his alleged crimes and will receive First Amendment protections.

“If assurances are not given then we will grant leave to appeal without a further hearing,” Judge Victoria Sharp said. “If assurances are given then we will give the parties an opportunity to make further submissions before we make a final decision on the application for leave to appeal.”

Judges Sharp and Jeremy Johnson said the U.S. must afford Assange, a 52-year-old Australian national, “the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen and that the death penalty is not imposed.”

The ruling gives the U.S. three weeks to provide assurances that would address these grounds. If the U.S. declines to give the assurances, the court will grant Assange the right to appeal his extradition on these grounds. But if assurances are given, there will be a hearing on May 20 to determine if the assurances are sufficient and to give a final ruling on whether Assange will be allowed to appeal.

If the British court ultimately rules in favor of extradition to the U.S., Assange’s only remaining option would be at the European Court of Human Rights.

REP. MASSIE BRINGING JULIAN ASSANGE’S BROTHER AS GUEST TO STATE OF THE UNION

The judges rejected most of Assange’s appeals – six of nine he lodged, including allegations that his prosecution is political. The judges dismissed his claim, saying that while he “acted out of political conviction… it does not follow, however, that the request for his extradition is made on account of his political views.”

“Extradition would result in him being lawfully in the custody of the United States authorities, and the reasons (if they can be called that) for rendition or kidnap or assassination then fall away,” the ruling said, also avoiding concerns about an alleged CIA plot to kidnap or kill Assange while he remained hunkered down in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Fox News Digital has reached out to Assange’s lawyers for comment on Tuesday’s ruling.

Assange has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11, 2019, for breaching bail conditions. He had sought asylum at the embassy since 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations he raped two women because Sweden would not provide assurances it would protect him from extradition to the U.S. The investigations into the sexual assault allegations were eventually dropped.

“Julian still remains imprisoned in very harsh conditions with rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health,” Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s brother, told Fox News Digital. “Today’s announcement represents the extension of this long and arduous thirteen-year process to have Julian released and returned home to Australia, and we are very concerned at the prospect of him being extradited to the U.S.”

“This has gone on long enough. There are no benefits served in Julian’s continual incarceration, and we hope for a diplomatic solution to be reached swiftly,” he continued.

The Australian publisher faces 17 counts under the Espionage Act for allegedly receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public, as well as one charge alleging conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. If extradited, Assange would stand trial in Alexandria, Virginia, and could face up to 175 years in a maximum security prison if convicted. 

The charges were brought by the Trump administration’s Justice Department over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of cables leaked by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The information detailed alleged war crimes committed by the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, as well as instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.

UK HIGH COURT HEARS ARGUMENTS IN ASSANGE’S US EXTRADITION CASE WITHOUT HIM PRESENT DUE TO HEALTH REASONS

A protester holds a placard outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

The Obama administration in 2013 decided not to indict Assange over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of classified cables because it would have had to also indict journalists from major news outlets who published the same materials.

President Obama also commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses to seven years in January 2017, and Manning, who had been imprisoned since 2010, was released later that year.

But the Justice Department under President Trump later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has continued to pursue his prosecution.

BIPARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL RESOLUTION CALLS ON US OFFICIALS TO DROP CHARGES AGAINST ASSANGE

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment.

“My concerns about the precarious mental health of Julian Assange and his unfitness to be extradited, as well as the potential for him to receive a wholly disproportionate sentence in the United States, have not been assuaged by the court,” Alice Edwards, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, said in a statement Tuesday. “It is regrettable that the Court did not comprehensively address the possibility of a disproportionate penalty for Mr. Assange in the US, of up to 175 years and likely no less than 30 years; or the potential that he would likely be held in ongoing solitary confinement – either of these could amount to inhuman treatment.”

“It is regrettable that the Court did not comprehensively address the possibility of a disproportionate penalty for Mr. Assange in the U.S., of up to 175 years and likely no less than 30 years; or the potential that he would likely be held in ongoing solitary confinement – either of these could amount to inhuman treatment,” she continued.

Stella Assange

The Justice Department and the State Department declined to comment to Fox News Digital. State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller also declined to comment at a press briefing Tuesday when a reporter asked him about the ruling by the British High Court.

No publisher had been charged under the Espionage Act until Assange, and many press freedom groups have said his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent intended to criminalize journalism.

“We are glad Julian Assange is not getting extradited today. But this legal battle is far from over, and the threat to journalists and the news media from the Espionage Act charges against Assange remains,” Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday. “Assange’s conviction in American courts would create a dangerous precedent that the U.S. government can and will use against reporters of all stripes who expose its wrongdoing or embarrass it. The Biden administration should take the opportunity to drop this dangerous case once and for all.”

Stella Assange, wife of Julian, called her husband a “political prisoner” and demanded the Biden administration to outright drop the “shameful” case against him.

“This case will determine if he lives or dies, essentially,” she told the BBC. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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