Julian Assange's extradition appeal hearing: what could happen?

Update: A London court ruled this on Monday Julian Assange could appeal against his extradition in the United States, a move that extends his long legal battle in British courts.

A British court is set to make a final decision after a hearing on Monday on whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, will have the right to appeal an extradition order to the United States, where he faces charges under the law about espionage.

Mr Assange has been held in a London prison since 2019, accused by the United States of violations in relation to the obtaining and publication of classified government documents on WikiLeaks in 2010.

His case has moved slowly through the courts since his extradition was ordered by a London court in April 2022. Priti Patel, Britain's Home Secretary at the time, approved the extradition two months later.

In February, the High Court heard Assange's final appeal, and in March the judges asked US authorities to provide specific guarantees about his treatment if extradited.

After Monday's hearing, the court will decide whether those assurances — that Mr. Assange will not face the death penalty or be persecuted because of his nationality and that he could get the same First Amendment protections as a U.S. citizen — are satisfactory, and whether Mr Assange can appeal against his extradition.

Although the timing of the sentence is not yet clear, the sentence could arrive as early as Monday afternoon, at the end of the hearing. Here are the possible results:

At a news conference last week, members of the legal team for Mr Assange and his wife said he could be put on a plane to the United States within 24 hours if the court decides he cannot appeal, potentially ending the his battle that lasted years.

But Mr Assange's legal team has vowed to challenge his extradition by appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Britain is obliged to respect the Court's ruling as a member of the Court and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. An appeal to court could potentially suspend his extradition until the case is dealt with in Strasbourg.

If the ECHR does not intervene, Mr. Assange could be extradited and face charges in the United States, including 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents, and a federal charge of conspiracy to hack into a Pentagon computer network.

If convicted of these charges, he could face a sentence of up to 175 years in prison, according to his lawyers, who described the charges as politically motivated. But US government lawyers, who said the leaks put lives at risk, said Mr Assange would be more likely to receive a shorter sentence of four to six years.

In its March ruling, the court denied Mr Assange's requests for leave to appeal on six of the nine grounds raised, saying they had “no merit”. But they said Mr Assange had “an arguable case” on the remaining three grounds of appeal: that in the United States he could face the death penalty, be persecuted for his nationality or lack access to First Amendment protections.

If the Court determines that the assurances received from the United States on these three issues are not sufficient, an appeal could be filed, which could open the door to a new decision on his extradition.

This would mean that the legal case, which has attracted the world's attention and mobilized press freedom advocates, will continue to be contested, and that Assange's transfer to the United States will at least be delayed.

Mr Assange's legal team said last week they were continuing to push for a political solution to his extradition, in the hope he could eventually be allowed to return to Australia, his home country.

Jennifer Robinson, a human rights lawyer, said the team was working closely with the Australian prime minister and attorney general “to try to seek a resolution to this case.”

“This could be resolved at any time when the United States makes the decision, which we believe is the right one, to dismiss this case and to drop a charge that has been universally condemned by free speech groups,” he said.

Mr Assange's team has suggested that the judges could also exercise their judicial discretion and decide to dismiss the extradition case entirely, but there is no indication that this is on the table.

“I have the feeling that anything could happen at this stage,” said Stella Assange, Mr. Assange's wife.

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