Further Blow to Press Freedoms as US Wins Appeal in Effort To Extradite Julian Assange

As Britain’s High Court on Wednesday handed the United States a win in its bid to extradite Julian Assange, press freedom and other human rights defenders renewed calls for the Biden administration to drop all charges against the WikiLeaks founder.

Lord Justice Tim Holroyde on Wednesday ruled that the U.S. government may expand its appeal of a lower court’s rejection of the Trump administration’s attempt to extradite Assange, the BBC reports. On January 4, Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court warned that extradition “would be oppressive by reason of Assange’s mental health,” and that there was a “substantial” risk the WikiLeaks whistleblower would kill himself in a US prison.

Clair Dobbin, an attorney representing the US government in the case, had countered that Assange would be able to “resist suicide” in American custody. The United States is now seeking to minimize or dismiss expert medical evidence provided by neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman, who last year testified that Assange is autistic, suffers from recurring depression, and was likely to try to kill himself if extradited.

Holroyde said Wednesday that the High Court would hear the full appeal on October 27 and 28. Assange has been imprisoned in London’s notorious Belmarsh Prison for over two years.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London Wednesday, former U.K. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told demonstrators that “journalism is a very dangerous and risky profession when done properly” and that Assange “walks in that great tradition of great, fearless journalists.”

“We’re here to support Julian Assange and demand his freedom,” said Corbyn.

Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, told the protesters that the US government “is exploiting the inherently unfair extradition arrangements with this country in order to arbitrarily prolong his imprisonment.”

Amnesty International legal adviser Simon Crowther said outside the court that charges like those against Assange “should never be brought against journalists or publishers.”

“What this allows the US to do,” said Crowther, “is to challenge journalists and editors when they publish things the US does not want in the public domain, sometimes classified material, which is the lifeblood of investigative journalists when they’re investigating things like war crimes and crimes against humanity that are perpetrated by states like the US”

“This would have a very significant chilling effect if the US were to win this case,” added Crowther. “Journalists would have to look over their shoulder and worry about their legal liability when they accept information from sources provided to them confidentially.”

Amnesty International on Wednesday joined Assange Defense, Freedom of the Press Foundation, the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and other advocacy groups that reiterated earlier calls for US authorities to drop all charges against the jailed whistleblower.

“This attempt by the US government to get the court to reverse its decision not to allow Julian Assange’s extradition on the basis of new diplomatic assurances is a blatant legal sleight of hand,” Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty’s Europe director, said in a statement.

“This disingenuous appeal should be dismissed by the court and President [Joe] Biden should take the opportunity to drop these politically motivated charges which have put media freedom and freedom of expression in the dock,” Muižnieks continued.

“President [Barack] Obama opened the investigation into Julian Assange. President [Donald] Trump brought the charges against him. It is now time for President Biden to do the right thing and help end this farcical prosecution which should never have been brought in the first place,” he added.

Assange is charged in the United States with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for publishing classified US military documents on WikiLeaks over a decade ago.

Among the materials brought to light by Assange and WikiLeaks are the so-called “Collateral Murder” video, which shows a US Army helicopter crew killing a group of Iraqi civilians; the Afghan War Diary; and the Iraq War Logs, all of which revealed US and allied war crimes. Many of the documents published by WikiLeaks were provided by former US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. 

Unlike Manning – who spent seven years in prison before her sentence was commuted by Obama in January 2017 – none of the soldiers or commanders implicated in war crimes by WikiLeaks were seriously punished. Assange could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted of all the charges against him. 

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.