The High Court has reversed a decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US, where he is wanted for publishing classified documents.
Mr Assange, 50, is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information after WikiLeak’s publication of several hundred leaked documents relating to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
US authorities brought a High Court challenge against a January ruling by then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser, who ruled that Mr Assange should not be sent to the US, in which she cited a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holroyde have now ruled in favour of the US.
Responding to the decision, Stella Moris, Mr Assange’s fiancee, said: “We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment.”
Speaking outside the High Court, a visibly emotional Ms Moris said: “For the past two and a half years, Julian has remained in Belmarsh Prison and, in fact, he has been detained since 7 December 2010 in one form or another.
“For how long can this go on?”
“How can these courts approve an extradition request under these conditions?” she added. “How can they accept an extradition to the country that plotted to kill Julian? This goes to the fundamentals of press freedom and democracy.”
Ms Moris added her finance represents what it “means to live in a free society” and accused the UK of imprisoning journalists “on behalf of a foreign power”.
US argued Assange would not face strict measures
The senior judges found that Ms Baraitser had based her decision on the risk of Mr Assange being held in highly restrictive prison conditions if extradited.
However, US authorities later gave assurances that he would not face those strictest measures either pre-trial or post-conviction unless he committed an act in the future that required them.
Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”
James Lewis QC, representing the US, said the district judge based her decision on Mr Assange’s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventative measures”, and argued Mr Assange’s health is well enough for extradition.
Assange’s lawyers oppose ruling
Lawyers representing Mr Assange had argued that the assurances over his potential treatment were “meaningless” and “vague”.
Mr Assange’s legal team have stated they will be seeking to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and have 14 days to file an application.
The court also heard that Assange had faced a “menacing, threatening and frightening” situation while under surveillance when he lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Mr Assange has been held in Belmarsh Prison since 2019 after he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions.
He had been living in the embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.