The extradition hearings for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange began in a UK court on Monday. The hearing marked the beginning of a week of arguments, which will be followed by three weeks of hearings in May.
District Judge Vanessa Baraister agreed to the additional time in January, which both sides accepted as necessary due to the number of legal issues involved. Under British law, the country requesting extradition does not have to prove that the person in question will be found guilty, just that there is a valid case that needs resolved.
Assange has been accused of espionage by the US government for sharing unredacted classified information on the internet. According to the lawyer representing the US, this information led to the deaths and disappearances of informants and Iraqi and Afghani dissidents. The lawyer representing Assange countered that Assange’s actions fall under the free speech protections of the First Amendment.
Lawyers for Assange further argued that if he is convicted in a US court for espionage, he faces a 175-year sentence in segregated conditions, which puts him at risk of suicide. However, in 2012 the European Court of Human Rights held that a life sentence in supposedly harsh conditions in the US was not a breach of human rights and was therefore not determinative grounds for denying an extradition request from the US. What impact Brexit will have on this is uncertain, as the European Court of Human Rights falls under the Council of Europe, which is a separate entity from the European Union.
It is likely that whichever side losses the hearing will appeal the decision. As such, the case could end up before the UK’s Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights.