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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal battle over extradition to US nears conclusion as final court hearing begins

Updated on: 19 February,2024 03:09 PM IST  |  London
mid-day online correspondent |

Julian Assange is facing 18 accusations in the US for WikiLeaks' 2010 disclosure of confidential material, including espionage & computer misuse.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal battle over extradition to US nears conclusion as final court hearing begins

Julian Assange. File Pic

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is reaching the end of his long legal battle to prevent extradition to the United States, with what could be his final court appearance beginning in London.

Assange, 52, is facing 18 accusations in the US for WikiLeaks' 2010 disclosure of confidential material, including espionage and computer misuse. His extradition hearing in London will determine if he may file an appeal against the transfer, stated the Associated Press report.

His wife, Stella Assange, describes the decision as a matter of life and death for him, noting his failing health while in jail. "His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison," Stella Assange told AP. "If he's extradited, he will die," she added. 

Probe against Julian Assange

Assange has been subjected to various sorts of restrictions for more than a decade, beginning with his self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. After Ecuador revoked his refugee status in 2019, he was detained by British police and has since been imprisoned.

Although the Swedish investigation into sex crimes has been discontinued, Assange remains in detention due to an extradition fight with the United States.

"Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the US government. Reporting a crime is never a crime," Stella Assange told AP.

On the other hand, US lawyers said that Assange is guilty of attempting to hack the Pentagon computer and that Assange's WikiLeaks publications created "grave and imminent risk" for the US intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

According to the Associated Press report, among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad which killed 11, including two Reuters journalists. 

Consequences of the verdict

If the London court denies Assange's request for a full appeal, he might be extradited to the United States, pending consent from British officials. His legal team expects to appeal any adverse verdict to the European Court of Human Rights, though they are concerned about possible extradition before the Strasbourg, France-based court may interfere. A favourable verdict at this week's hearing would clear the path for an appeal, which would likely prolong the matter even further.

Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson criticised the lengthy judicial processes, calling them a sort of "punishment through process." He believes the delay is a deliberate ploy to wear Assange down and lengthen his sentence, the AP report stated. 

According to the report, Despite the UK Supreme Court's rejection of Assange's previous petition, his wife believes there are several grounds for appeal in his new bid. Assange's legal team plans to argue that he cannot receive a fair trial in the US, citing a US-UK treaty prohibiting extradition for political offenses and contending that the Espionage Act was not intended to apply to publishers.

Meanwhile, Assange's legal team opposes extradition, claiming worries about his fair trial rights, the political character of the charges, and the unprecedented use of espionage statutes against a publisher.

"The drafters of the Espionage Act did not intend for publishers to fall within its ambit. Unchallenged expert evidence showed that receipt and publication of state secrets is routine, and that there was an unbroken practice of non-prosecution' of publishers. The prosecution crosses a new legal frontier' and breaks all legal precedents'," Stella posted on social media.

Julian Assange's condition in prison

Stella Assange expresses deep anxiety about her husband's deteriorating mental and physical health, compounded by his protracted imprisonment. She describes incidents of illness, such as a mini-stroke and a broken rib from coughing. Their two young sons, born during Assange's stint in the embassy, pay him monthly visits in prison while subjected to stringent security checks. Stella hides the children from the specifics of their father's plight, hoping to shelter them from the terrible realities of his captivity.

"I worry about him every time he gets sick. The mental toll is extreme," Stella Assange said.

"I don't think it's fair on them to know what's really going on. They know exactly what a prison is. They know that the guards are stopping Julian from leaving the prison even though he wants to come home," she added. 

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