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UK Court to Decide on Julian Assange Extradition Appeal: Potential Outcomes Explored

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to appear at a critical court hearing in London on Monday, a key event in his prolonged legal fight to avoid extradition to the United States.

London’s High Court will decide whether to accept US assurances that Assange, 52, will receive a fair trial and will not face the death penalty. This decision could clear the way for Assange’s extradition to the US, where he faces 18 charges, mostly under the Espionage Act, for WikiLeaks’s publication of thousands of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

These documents include classified US military reports about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars released in 2010. WikiLeaks also shared a US military video showing what it described as the “indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people,” including two Reuters journalists, by Apache helicopters in Baghdad, Iraq.

The US government claims the release of these confidential documents endangered the lives of its agents. The upcoming hearing could bring the US closer to prosecuting what it calls the largest security breach in its military history, potentially setting a precedent with significant implications for global media freedom.

Assurances Sought by the UK Court from the US

The British court requested two sets of assurances from the US to determine the legality of Julian Assange’s extradition under both domestic and international law.

In 2021, the court asked the Biden administration to provide diplomatic assurances that Assange would not be held in a maximum-security prison or subjected to “Special Administrative Measures,” which allow the US government to restrict a prisoner’s contact with the outside world. Critics argue that these measures can lead to prolonged solitary confinement.

At a hearing in March, the court gave the US three weeks to guarantee that Assange, an Australian national, would be able to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech during a US trial and that there would be no possibility of new charges carrying the death penalty.

The US responded to both requests with written assurances, setting the stage for the crucial extradition hearing on May 20.

Reliability of US Assurances

Critics argue that US assurances are not reliable due to their caveats. Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counterterrorism and criminal justice in Europe, described these assurances as “inherently unreliable because the US government gives itself an out.”

In court documents released in July 2021, the US assured the UK that Assange would not be immediately detained in a maximum-security prison but retained the right to do so based on his behavior. Hall told, “The way the US government has treated Assange thus far suggests they would find a reason to place him in a maximum-security prison.”

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