LONDON, United Kingdom – The United States has one less hurdle in its quest to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. to face espionage charges. An appellate court in London on Friday overturned a lower court’s ruling from earlier this year.
A British appellate court overturned a lower court’s decision that the WikiLeaks founder’s mental health was too fragile to withstand the American criminal justice system.
A British judge in the lower court said Assange, 50, who is currently being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, could kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
The High Court in London found that U.S. assurances were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely. The court also directed a lower court judge to send the extradition request to Britain’s interior minister for review.
If extradited, Assange is facing 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published. They claim that making those documents public, put American lives at risk.
Lawyers for Assange argue that he is a journalist and upon acting a such, he received documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. His lawyers state that he is entitled to First Amendment freedom of speech protections for publishing documents.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel will make the final decision on whether to extradite Assange.
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,″ the High Court ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris reacted to the news by vowing to continue the fight and that their lawyers would seek to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.
“We will fight,” Moris said outside court, where supporters gathered with banners demanding Assange’s release.
“Every generation has an epic fight to fight and this is ours, because Julian represents the fundamentals of what it means to live in a free society,” she said.
“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?” she said. “We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment.”
James Lewis, a lawyer for the U.S. government, said Assange “has no history of serious and enduring mental illness” and does not meet the threshold of being so ill that he cannot resist harming himself.
So what assurances did the US make for the British courts to reverse their ruling?
U.S. authorities have told British judges that if Assange is extradited for prosecution, he would be eligible to serve any U.S. prison sentence he receives in his native Australia. The authorities also said he wouldn’t be held at the supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, the highest-security prison in the United States.
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