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US authorities win their latest bid to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

<i>Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold placards outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on December 10.
Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold placards outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on December 10.

By Laura Smith-Spark, Claudia Rebaza and Sebastian Shukla, CNN

US authorities have won their bid to overturn a British judge’s ruling that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to face charges in the United States, on the basis of assurances given about his treatment there.

The 50-year-old Australian has been charged in the US under the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified military and diplomatic cables.

Friday’s ruling by two senior judges overturns the ruling of a British judge in January that granting the US request to extradite Assange would be “oppressive” by reason of his mental health.

Assange’s lawyers said in a statement on Friday that they would appeal the decision based on the assurances at the UK’s Supreme Court, within the requisite 14 days. They added that appeals on other issues, such as questions of free speech and the political motivation of the US extradition request, have yet to be heard by any appeal court.

In January, judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that the “special administrative measures” in which Assange would most likely be held would have a severe negative impact on his mental health. She said Assange had “remained either severely or moderately clinically depressed,” throughout his stay at London’s Belmarsh prison and that he was considered a suicide risk.

According to court documents, the US won its appeal to extradite Assange due to “four assurances” sent in a Diplomatic Note dated February 5, 2021.

These assurances were that Assange would not be made the subject of “special administrative measures”; nor would he be held at a maximum security prison before or after trial. In addition, the US would “consent” to an application by Assange to be transferred to Australia to serve his sentence, if convicted; and while in custody in the US, Assange would receive “appropriate clinical and psychological treatment.”

The senior judges hearing the appeal were satisfied that these assurances met the concerns which led the judge to reach her decision in January, court documents said Friday.

The judges ordered that the case should now be returned to Westminster Magistrates’ Court, with a direction that a district judge send the case to the UK Home Secretary, who will decide whether Assange should be extradited to the US.

Assange will remain in custody, the judges said. He is being held at Belmarsh Prison in London.

Moris, who has two children with Assange, called the latest ruling “a grave miscarriage of justice” and “dangerous and misguided.”

“How can this court approve an extradition request, under these conditions?” she said, speaking outside the UK’s High Court of Justice on Friday.

“This goes to the fundamentals of press freedom and of democracy. We will fight. Every generation has an epic fight to fight and this is ours, because Julian represents the fundamentals of what it means to live in a free society, of what it means to have press freedom. Of what it means for journalists to do their jobs without being afraid of spending the rest of their lives in prison.”

Moris accused the UK of imprisoning Assange “on behalf of a foreign power which is taking an abusive, vindictive prosecution against a journalist” and urged “everyone to come together and fight for Julian.”

Assange is wanted in the US on 18 criminal charges after WikiLeaks published thousands of classified files and diplomatic cables in 2010. If convicted, he faces up to 175 years in prison.

Assange spent nearly seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London protected by asylum status, avoiding extradition to Sweden.

He was eventually arrested in 2019 by London’s Metropolitan Police in connection with bail-skipping charges and a separate extradition warrant from the US Justice Department.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation of sexual molestation and coercion against him in 2015 and their investigation into rape allegations in 2019. Assange always denied wrongdoing in that case.

In July, a court in Ecuador decided that Assange’s status as a naturalized citizen of Ecuador, which was granted to him in December 2017 by then-President Lenín Moreno, should be revoked.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Lauren Moorhouse contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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