British magistrates Ian Burnett and Tim Holroyde Monday ruled there was a legal technicality in Julian Assange's case worth reviewing by the country's highest court and therefore cleared the way for the latter's extradition to the United States to be appealed against.
Assange is set to be extradited to the United States to stand trial for 18 counts of espionage and computer intrusion. The new High Court ruling gives Assange 14 days to take his case to the Supreme Court.
Burnett and Holroyde, who Dec. 10 authorized Assange's handover, recognized in their ruling Monday that there was a legal side the Supreme Court should better decide upon: Is it admissible that Washington presented during the appeal process last October, and not in the initial trial in January 2021, its guarantees about the treatment that the Australian will receive on American soil?
However, the judges consider that Assange's appeal should be denied, but since the Supreme Court has never ruled on this specific legal point, they would rather have this question clarified before Assange is flown over to the United States.
Assange's defense team has already complained in October that the United States had presented the safeguards in an untimely manner.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed the possibility of an appeal for the journalist who has been imprisoned for more than 1,000 days in the Belmarsh maximum security prison.
We welcome this decision, said Rebecca Vincent, director of RSF's UK headquarters, stressing that it is a step in the right direction, although it is still not enough.
We are pleased that Julian Assange is allowed to apply for the appeal against his extradition to the US, the IFJ statement said, adding that Assange's extradition to the US would put his life in extreme danger.
For his part, Massimo Moratti, research director of Amnesty International's regional office, welcomed the decision, but expressed his reservations, worrying that the High Court has shirked its responsibility to ensure that judicial bodies fully study the issues of public importance.
According to the RSF representative, Assange's case has historical significance, which will have implications for journalism and press freedom for many years to come.
The organizations also called on US President Joseph Biden's administration to drop all charges and close the case once and for all.
The IFJ remarked: We constantly demand Assange's immediate release in the name of press freedom.
On December 10, the Superior Court had overruled Judge Vanessa Baraitser's decision against extraditing Assange on the grounds that he posed a suicide risk. Burnett and Holroyde maintained Baraitser should have warned the United States Judiciary about those concerns of hers so that she could have been offered a detailed report on the guarantees the US prison regime would apply in that regard. The judges then said the guarantees eventually produced before their court were satisfactory and ruled Assange could be extradited.
During the trial held Oct. 27 and 28, Prosecutor James Lewis, representing the US, guaranteed that if Assange was extradited he would not be subjected to special administrative measures (SAM, in English) such as having visits or correspondence banned, nor would he go to a top security detention facility in Colorado, unless he later did something to deserve it.
Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if he is convicted in a US court of 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and one of alleged hacking for publishing on WikiLeaks some 90,000 war reports of activities carried out in Afghanistan, 400,000 actions in Iraq, 250,000 raw cables from the State Department and more than 800 reports on inmates held at Guantanamo.
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