Demonstration against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, October 27, 2021 in front of the High Court in London (AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS)
Contesting the refusal to extradite Julian Assange, the United States sought on Wednesday to reassure British justice as to the treatment that would be reserved for the founder of Wikileaks if he was handed over to Washington.
Prosecuted for a massive leak of classified American documents, the 50-year-old Australian faces 175 years in prison in the United States in a case denounced by his supporters as a dangerous attack on press freedom.
At a hearing scheduled until Thursday, the United States hopes to convince the High Court of London to overturn the decision rendered last January by Vanessa Baraitser. The magistrate had rejected the American request for extradition, suggesting a risk of suicide.
US government attorney James Lewis insisted on assurances from Washington that Julian Assange would not be subject to special measures or would be held in the dreaded ADX super-security penitentiary center Florence, Colorado, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.
American justice would ensure that the founder of Wikileaks receives the necessary clinical and psychological care and that he can apply to serve his sentence in Australia, he said.
According to him, the judge would have reached different conclusions if she had had these assurances, formulated after the first instance decision.
After initially refusing to appear, Julian Assange obviously changed his mind, the judge noting during the hearing that “Mr. Assange has joined us”.
He is participating in the hearing by videoconference from Belmarsh high security prison in east London, where he has been held for two and a half years after seven years in prison at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
British justice agreed to examine the American appeal in particular because the reliability of an expert who had testified in favor of Assange was questioned. The psychiatrist Michael Kopelman had indeed admitted to having deceived justice by “concealing” the fact that his client had become the father of two children while he was confined to the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
After the two days of hearings, the decision will be reserved for several weeks.
This appeal constitutes one of the last recourse for Washington, which, in the event of a new defeat, would only have the possibility of appealing to the British Supreme Court, without guarantee that it will accept.
If Washington were to win the case, the case would still be far from over: it would then be referred to a court to decide again.
– “Very thin” –
Julian Assange: the main stages of the legal saga of the founder of WikiLeaks (AFP /)
The stake is to know if the British justice “will extradite a journalist to the country which plotted to assassinate him”, estimated before the hearing Stella Moris, the companion of Julian Assange, “very worried” after having it seen “very skinny” in prison on Saturday.
“I hope the court will put an end to this nightmare,” she said in front of several dozen supporters of the Australian gathered outside the High Court in London. Julian Assange is supported by a number of press freedom organizations.
“He did nothing wrong from a legal, ethical or moral point of view,” said Sadia Koknie, 40, questioned by AFP before the High Court. “He was imprisoned in disgusting conditions. (…) He shouldn’t be there.”
Julian Assange is being prosecuted for having disseminated, as of 2010, more than 700,000 classified documents on American military and diplomatic activities, in particular in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was arrested by British police in April 2019 after spending seven years in seclusion at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge while on bail. He feared extradition to the United States or Sweden, where he has been the subject of charges for rape, since dropped.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, on May 1, 2019 upon his arrival in court in London (AFP / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)
Julian Assange is under prosecution under President Donald Trump. Under his predecessor Barack Obama, who had Joe Biden for vice-president, American justice had given up on prosecuting the founder of WikiLeaks.
But the election of Joe Biden to the White House did not bring the dropping of the lawsuits hoped for by the supporters of Julian Assange.
dd-spe / gmo / clr