Julian Assange: Lawyers describe US prosecution as state retaliation

  • By Dominic Casciani, Home and Law Reporter & Sam Hancock
  • BBC News

image source, Elizabeth Cook

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The WikiLeaks founder did not appear in court on Tuesday – his lawyers said he was ill.

Julian Assange's lawyers have accused the US of prosecuting the WikiLeaks founder as “state retaliation”.

Mr Assange has been in Belmarsh, a UK prison, since 2019 and is wanted by US authorities for leaking secret military files in 2010 and 2011.

In a two-day High Court hearing that began on Tuesday, his legal team argued that his extradition would be against UK law.

If the appeal is rejected, Mr Assange could be deported within weeks.

One of the 52-year-old Australian lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald KC, argued that the US prosecution was “politically motivated”.

“Mr Assange exposes serious criminality,” Mr Fitzgerald told judges Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Johnson when he revealed the documents in question.

He told them his client was “being prosecuted for his involvement [the] It is normal journalistic practice to obtain and publish classified information – truthful and transparent and in the important public interest.”

Another of Mr Assange's lawyers, Mark Summers Casey, said the US wanted to retaliate for Mr Assange's political views – one of several obstacles to extradition from the UK. took off by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“This is a classic example of government retaliation for political expression,” Mr Summers told the court in central London.

The lawyers also argued that their client was “at real risk of further illegal activity by the CIA. [Central Intelligence Agency] or other agencies”—a legally subtle way of saying that he could be murdered or subjected to some harm beyond criminal sanction after a fair trial.

Their allegation – yet to be substantiated – that the CIA planned to kill Mr Assange during the seven years he was holed up inside Ecuador's London embassy from 2012 to 2019.

Mr Summers told judges that then US President Donald Trump had asked for “detailed options” on how to kill Mr Assange, who was absent from court on Tuesday due to ill health.

“Sketches have even been drawn,” he said, adding that there is evidence of this “really breathless project” — nothing has yet been produced.

Mr Summers said the alleged plan fell apart “when the UK authorities became uninterested in the idea of ​​shooting or opening fire on the streets of London”.

In written submissions, he and Mr Fitzgerald added: “Evidence shows that the US is willing to impunity US officials, including for abuses of its own criminal justice system in the infamous 'war on terror', and to stifle actors and courts willing to hold those crimes to account.

“Mr Assange is one of those targets.”

Mr Assange's massive legal battle began in 2010 when WikiLeaks released a trove of classified military files from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including footage showing US helicopter gunfire on civilians in Baghdad.

He took refuge in London's Ecuadorian embassy before being arrested by the Metropolitan Police in 2019.

The United States sought his extradition from England that year, saying the revelations endangered lives.

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Dozens of Assange supporters turned out outside the High Court on Tuesday

Two years later, a British judge ruled that even if the US had shown there was a formal criminal case against Mr Assange, he could not be extradited because he might try to harm himself.

The US overturned the ruling after giving the UK new assurances on how Mr Assange would be treated if extradited.

At this week's hearing, largely seen as a last resort, Mr Assange's lawyers are seeking permission to challenge an extradition order signed by then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2022.

Failing to convince the judges that there was anything wrong with the order, Mr Assange must be extradited within 28 days – unless he can convince the European Court of Human Rights to temporarily halt the flight through an “Article 39” order.

Nick Vamos, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said US marshals could arrive in London within days if the High Court throws out the case.

“It has a very high threshold [the European Court of Human Rights to intervene]That means there is a 'risk of irreparable damage' to his human rights, which is certainly one of the arguments the High Court in London would have rejected,” he said.

The case will determine whether he lives or dies

Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Stella Assange said her husband would not survive a US prison – and described the case as politically motivated.

“This case will determine whether he lives or dies,” he said.

Outside the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Assange's supporters gathered and waved placards reading “Free Julian Assange”.

Ms Assange thanked them for their support and addressed them from a platform outside the court: “We have two big days ahead. We don't know what to expect, but you're here because the world is watching.”

Speaking to the BBC, she described her husband as a “victim” of US “retaliation”, echoing the words of Mr Assange's lawyers inside.

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