US Guarantees Assange Will Not Face Death Penalty, Paving Way for Extradition

US Guarantees Assange Will Not Face Death Penalty, Paving Way for Extradition

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The US government has provided assurances requested by the High Court in London, meaning Julian Assange’s one possible ground for appeal is negated.

The United States has submitted the assurances required by the High Court in London at its most recent hearing of the Julian Assange extradition case: that he can rely on the First Amendment right to free speech as part of his defence, is not “prejudiced at trial” due to his Australian citizenship, and that there would be no new charges which could result in the death penalty being imposed.

The Court had said that, in the absence of those assurances, it would hear further submissions from the Wikileaks founder’s lawyers on why he should not be extradited.

However, with those guarantees in place before the deadline, which was April 16, it appears all possible grounds for the appeal have been exhausted. The Court is likely to rule in favour of the U.S. Justice Department.

If sent to the United States, Mr. Assange, 52, will face 18 charges, all but one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks’ release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.

U.S. authorities argue he is not being prosecuted for the publication of the leaked materials, but rather for the criminal act of conspiring with former U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain them.

First Amendment Defence at Whim of US Court

The document, seen by Reuters, says he “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 notes that any decision on the “applicability of the First Amendment is exclusively within the purview of the U.S. courts.”

It also says “a sentence of death will neither be sought nor imposed” and adds, “These assurances are binding on any and all present or subsequent individuals to whom authority has been delegated to decide the matters.”

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There will be a further court hearing in London on May 20, at which it is likely his lawyers will argue, as they have previously, that U.S. assurances are not “worth the paper they’re written on,” echoing similar criticism from human rights group Amnesty International.

Mr. Assange’s wife Stella said in a statement that the guarantees did not satisfy supporters’ concerns, describing them as “blatant weasel words.”

“The United States has issued a non-assurance in relation to the First Amendment, and a standard assurance in relation to the death penalty,” she said.

“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.”

Another glimmer of hope for Mr. Assange—who has spent more than 13 years involved in legal battles in the English courts since he was first arrested in November 2010—is President Joe Biden.

Last week, President Biden told reporters “we’re considering it” when asked about a request from the Australian government to drop the prosecution.

It was not clear what influence, if any, the president could bring to bear on a criminal case, but the Wall Street Journal has also reported that discussions are underway about a potential plea bargaining deal.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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