A London court on Wednesday sent an order to extradite Julian Assange to the U.K. home secretary, who has four weeks to decide. But Assange still has legal options.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
An order to extradite WikiLeaks‘ publisher Julian Assange was sent to British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday morning by Westminster Magistrate’s Court.
The order came after the U.K. Supreme Court last month declined to hear Assange’s appeal of a High Court decision to allow the extradition to the United States to proceed.
Patel now has four weeks to decide whether to send Assange to the U.S. to face espionage and computer intrusion charges for publishing prima facie evidence of U.S. war crimes that could land him behind bars for up to 175 years — an effective life sentence.
Assange’s legal team can appeal to Patel during the next four weeks. After her decision is made Assange can then make a renewed appeal to the High Court if she opts to send him to the U.S.
Mark Summers QC, one of Assange’s lawyers, told Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, that while he was not permitted by rule to present “fresh evidence” at the present hearing, Assange’s legal team would make submissions to Patel on “fresh developments” in Assange’s case.
Without elaborating, Summers said Patel would be sent “serious submissions on U.S. sentencing practices.” (Consortium News monitored the court hearing via a remote video link.)
Among the new developments since the High Court hearing in October is a deterioration in Assange’s health after he suffered a mini stroke on the first day of that hearing.
Assange initially won his extradition case in the magistrate’s court in January 2021 based on the high likelihood that his mental health would lead to his suicide in harsh prison conditions in the United States.
After the case was lost, the U.S. made diplomatic “assurances” to Britain that it would not put Assange in so-called Special Administrative Measures (SAMS), the most severe condition of isolation in the U.S. prison system. The U.S. also promised that Assange would be given adequate physical and mental health care.
The U.S. then appealed. Based on those assurances alone, the High Court on Dec. 10, 2021 overturned the lower court’s decision to block extradition. But that decision was made after Assange had suffered a stroke during the first day of the two-day High Court hearing. The stroke was not made public until the day after the ruling.
That markedly changed the conditions upon which the decision was reached as one of the High Court judges made the distinction during the hearing that Assange was suffering only from a mental and not physical disability. The crucial question remains: when did the High Court learn about the stroke?
If Patel decides to extradite and if Assange decides to appeal again to the High Court, his lawyers could also challenge parts of the lower court’s ruling on issues of press freedom and the political nature of the U.S. charges, which are not allowed in the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty.
Assange appeared in court Wednesday on a video screen from a room at Belmarsh maximum security prison where has been held since his arrest in April 2019 from the Ecuador embassy, where he had had political asylum for seven years.
Dressed in a gray suit and tie, Assange appeared more confident in his movements and lucid in his thoughts than in previous court appearances, as he clearly stated his name and date of birth. Assange was married this month to his partner Stella Assange in a ceremony held inside Belmarsh, where he was ordered to remain for at least the next four weeks.
Stella Assange spoke outside the courthouse after the hearing:
Julian Assange's wife speaks after todays court hearing: "The UK has no obligation to extradite Julian Assange to the US, in fact it is required by its international obligations to stop this extradition..this is a political case..free Julian Assange" @stellamoris1 #FreeAssangeNOW pic.twitter.com/MBjsw9SfXm
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 20, 2022
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe