Assange extradition case advances as US promises no death penalty in UK court

The U.S. provided assurances requested by the British High Court in London that could allow WikiLeaks founder to be extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. to face espionage charges.The High Court ruled last month that if the U.S. failed to provide assurances, Assange would be allowed to make an appeal challenging his extradition over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified U.S. military documents 14 years ago.Lawyers for the U.S. were asked to provide assurances that Assange could seek a First Amendment right to free speech during a trial in the U.S. and that the Australian publisher would not face new charges which could result in him being sentenced to the death penalty. These guarantees were submitted by Tuesday’s deadline, setting up a May 20 hearing in front of the British court to determine if Assange can be extradited. If the court rules in favor of extradition, Assange’s only remaining option would be at the .According to the document filed by the U.S., Assange, 52, “will have the ability to raise and seek to rely upon at trial the rights and protections given under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.” But, the document admits, a decision on the “applicability of the First Amendment is exclusively within the purview of the U.S. courts.”The document, which was reviewed by Digital, also alleges that the death penalty will not be sought or imposed.”These assurances are binding on any and all present or subsequent individuals to whom authority has been delegated to decide the matters,” the document read.Lawyers for Assange have previously described any assurances as meaningless, saying they do not believe they can rely on those guarantees if their client does face extradition.Assange faces 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 detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.A U.K. district court judge had 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.Assange’s family said they do not feel any comfort after learning of the U.S. assurances on Tuesday, with his wife Stella saying in a statement that the U.S. has limited itself to “blatant weasel words” and that the “diplomatic note does nothing to relieve our family’s extreme distress about his future — his grim expectation of spending the rest of his life in isolation in U.S. prison for publishing award-winning journalism.”Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s brother, told Digital: “This diplomatic note is another grim milestone in the persecution of Julian Assange.””We are now counting down to May 20th when the UK courts will decide whether this political note from the U.S. embassy in London is enough to order Julian’s extradition,” Shipton said.The assurances come after U.S. President Biden said last week he is considering a request from Australia to drop the charges against Assange.”With President Biden last week saying he is considering Australia’s request to have the charges dropped, it’s time to shut this prosecution down and let Julian be reunited with his family,” Shipton said.The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment to Digital about the guarantees.Last month, when the British court asked the U.S. to provide assurances, it rejected most of Assange’s appeals — six of nine he lodged, including allegations of a political prosecution and concerns about an under the Trump administration to kidnap or kill Assange while he remained hunkered down in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.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.The Obama administration in 2013 decided not to indict Assange over WikiLeaks’s 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  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.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.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.Reuters contributed to this report.

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