At a hearing before the UK Court of Appeal on Wednesday, US authorities assured that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could serve any prison sentence imposed upon him in his native Australia in exchange for his extradition to the US.
A lower court refused an American extradition request over the publication of US military documents related to the war in Iraq over a decade ago on WikiLeaks. Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse in the US. These charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years.
The British justice found that the extradition would be “oppressive” due to Assange’s deteriorating mental health and the “bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to . . . reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum.” The justice found that Assange was likely to kill himself if the extradition was followed through.
Assange has been held in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, a Category-A, high-security, prison in London, for over two years.
According to reports from ABC and Aljazeera, the attorney representing the US government denied that Assange’s mental health was too fragile. The attorney stated that Assange does not have a history of serious or enduring mental illness, and is not so ill that he could not resist hurting himself.
Protesters and freedom of the press advocates cheered the lower court decision and circled outside the Royal Courts as the hearings took place. The protestors echoed Assange’s argument that he was acting as a journalist at the time and is entitled to protection under the US First Amendment. Recently, protestors have turned towards urging US President Joe Biden to drop the charges laid under former President Trump’s administration, saying that the charges are politically motivated.
The higher court justices are not expected to render a decision for several weeks; it is expected the matter will most likely be appealed to the UK Supreme Court.