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Julian Assange’s US extradition hearing wraps up in London, judges to take time to reach verdict

WikiLeaks founder julian assange’s An appeal hearing challenging his extradition to the United States at Britain’s High Court in London concluded on Wednesday. The court is not expected to make a decision on the Australian publisher’s fate until at least next month.

The two-judge panel heard arguments from US lawyers seeking to have Assange, 52, extradited to the US to face spying charges for releasing classified US military documents 14 years ago. The two-day appeal hearing has ended.

Claire Dobbin, a lawyer representing the US government, said the case was based on “law and evidence” and was “not politically inspired”, calling Assange’s prosecution politically motivated. He pushed back against the accusation.

Speaking outside court, Assange’s wife Stella said: “Julian is a political prisoner and must be released.”

UK High Court hears arguments in Assange’s US extradition case without him present due to health reasons

Julian Assange’s wife Stella Assange speaks next to a poster of Julian Assange at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (AP)

Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson, who are presiding over the case, said on Wednesday it would take time for a verdict to be reached, with a verdict on Mr Assange’s fate not expected until March at the earliest. There is.

The hearing could be Assange’s final appeal to prevent his extradition to the United States, but if Assange wins in court this week, a full appeal hearing could be held in the future. If he loses this appeal, Assange’s only options are to European Court of Human RightsBut his supporters fear he may be flown to the United States before that because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

Dobbin argued that Assange risked innocent lives and went beyond journalism by attempting to obtain and release classified U.S. government documents. She alleges that Assange encouraged and assisted U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal diplomatic cables and military files released by WikiLeaks, thereby endangering her life.

However, there is no evidence that WikiLeaks put anyone at risk by publishing the documents. It is also common among journalists to ask sources for further material.

Mr. Dobbin claimed that Mr. Assange harmed U.S. security and intelligence agencies and “created a grave and imminent danger” by releasing hundreds of thousands of documents. These risks harm many innocent people living in combat zones or under repressive regimes and can lead to arbitrary detention, she said.

He said Mr Assange’s encouragement of Mr Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal material meant the WikiLeaks founder had gone “far beyond” the intelligence gathering of journalists. Ta.

Assange “wasn’t someone who just set up an online box where people could provide sensitive information,” she said. “The charge is that he attempted to encourage theft and hacking to benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s lawyers said during the first day of hearings on Tuesday that U.S. authorities are seeking to punish him for “unprecedented revelations of crimes committed by the U.S. government” by WikiLeaks, including torture and murder. insisted.

His lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, warned that if he were extradited to the United States, there was “a real possibility that he would suffer a gross denial of justice”.

European Parliament urges UK to release Assange if possible as final appeal begins against US extradition

Demonstrators hold placards outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

Julian Assange’s lawyers are waging a final legal challenge in the UK to prevent the WikiLeaks founder from being extradited to the US on spying charges. (AP)

Dobbin said the First Amendment does not grant immunity to journalists who break the law, and that news organizations that go through an editorial process before publishing documents cannot be prosecuted.

Journalists outside England and Wales, including Fox News Digital, were denied access to the hearing remotely. Journalists granted remote or in-person access at times had trouble hearing lawyers during Wednesday’s arguments.

If, after exhausting all legal appeals, Assange is extradited to the United States, he will stand trial there. Alexandria, Virginia; He could be sentenced to up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison in the United States. His supporters have long argued that he would not receive a fair trial if he was extradited.

The international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday that it “heard essentially nothing new from legal representatives of the U.S. government during this hearing.” “Rather than address the compelling new arguments raised by Assange’s defense, they instead reiterated their long-standing argument that Assange’s actions did not constitute journalistic activity and that he would be given a fair trial in the United States. We doubled it.”

“The facts of the matter remain: WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked and classified documents in 2010 exposed information of public interest and informed journalism around the world,” the statement continued. Ta. “Prosecutors and other U.S. officials have said Assange is not afforded First Amendment protections as an alien. Combined with the fact that the Espionage Act has no public interest defense, That means he won’t get a fair trial.”

Assange was absent from court on Tuesday and Wednesday, citing health issues. His family has expressed concerns about his physical and mental health, and Stella Assange told reporters that her husband’s life is in danger every day he remains in prison, and that if he is extradited to the United States He said he believed he would die.

Earlier this month, Alice Gilles Edwards, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, said: called on the British government This is to prevent Assange from being extradited due to concerns that he may be at risk of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment or punishment.

Bipartisan Congressional resolution calls on US officials to drop charges against Assange

Last month, a group of Australian parliamentarians wrote to British Home Secretary James Cleverley, calling on Mr Assange to halt his extradition to the US, citing concerns for his safety and well-being, and instead asking the British government to stop Mr Assange’s persecution. called for an independent assessment of the risks.

Assange faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act for allegedly receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public, and one charge alleging conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

The charges stem from the Trump administration’s Justice Department’s 2010 release by WikiLeaks of leaked cables by Manning detailing war crimes committed by the U.S. government at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba. It was caused by The document also exposes cases of CIA torture and coercion.

WikiLeaks’ “collateral murder” video, which showed U.S. forces shooting civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters reporters, was also released 14 years ago.

Mr. Assange is being held at: London’s maximum security Belmarsh prison Since he was expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy on April 11, 2019 for violating his bail conditions. He had applied for asylum at the embassy since 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on charges of raping two women. Sweden has not provided any guarantees to protect him from extradition to the United States. The investigation into the sexual assault charges was ultimately closed.

Australian lawmaker pens letter asking UK government to halt extradition of Julian Assange to US due to health concerns

Assange supporter holding a sign

A protester holds a poster at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (AP)

A British district judge rejected a U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to commit suicide if held in harsh prison conditions in the United States. The High Court subsequently overturned this decision after receiving assurances from the United States about his treatment, and the British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Mark Summers, one of Mr. Assange’s lawyers, said on Tuesday that there was evidence that there was a plot to kidnap or kill Mr. Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​and that former President Trump was planning to kill Mr. Assange. He said he had asked for “detailed options.”

“The CIA officials asked for a plan, the president himself asked to be given options on how to do it, and a sketch was even drawn up,” Summers said.

CIA under the CIA trump administration In 2021, Yahoo reported that Assange was suspected of plotting to kill him over the release of a secret government hacking tool known as Vault 7 that was leaked to WikiLeaks. The agency said the breach was “the largest data loss in CIA history.”

The agency is said to have consulted at the “highest levels” of the administration about the plot to assassinate Assange in London, and produced “sketches” and “options” for the killing at the behest of then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Yahoo reports that the CIA is also planning to kidnap and extradite Assange and has made a political decision to prosecute him.

While he was at the embassy, ​​the spying on Assange and his lawyer was exposed to the CIA. A judge recently ruled that a lawsuit filed against the CIA for spying on visitors can proceed.

“They are trying to deliver Julian into the hands of the state and the people who planned his assassination,” Stella Assange said.

The Obama administration decided in 2013 not to prosecute Assange over WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of confidential cables, because it also needed to prosecute journalists at major news organizations who published the same material. is known as the “New York Times problem.”Former President Obama too Manning’s 35-year prison sentence commuted Manning, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in January 2017 for violating the Espionage Act and other charges, was released later that year after being imprisoned since 2010.

However, former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration continues to prosecute him.

UK High Court sets final appeal date for Julian Assange over US extradition

Assange supporters hold placards outside the High Court in London

Assange has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-imposed exile at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the past five years in a maximum-security prison. (AP)

Until Assange, no publisher had been charged under the Espionage Act, but many press freedom groups argue that his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent aimed at criminalizing journalism. .

In 2022, editors and publishers of U.S. and European news organizations who helped publish excerpts from more than 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the Cablegate leaks – The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde , Der Spiegel, El Pais – wrote an open letter He called on the US to drop the charges against Assange.

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The Guardian’s editors also published an editorial on Sunday, saying the paper opposed extraditing Mr. Assange to the United States because doing so would pose a threat to both the WikiLeaks founder and its journalism.

There was also multiple efforts Legislation introduced by US and Australian lawmakers last year to demand Mr Assange’s freedom includes a bill that Australian parliaments overwhelmingly supported last week to call on the US and UK governments to stop prosecuting Mr Assange. The calls for his release include votes and a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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