US lawyers lodge appeal against block on Julian Assange’s extradition

The US Government has formally lodged an appeal against the decision to block Julian Assange’s extradition.

On January 4, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that the WikiLeaks founder should not to be sent to the US, citing a real risk of suicide.

She went on to refuse the 49-year-old bail under strict conditions for fear he could abscond and deny prosecutors the chance to appeal.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that the appeal had been lodged on Friday, days ahead of the two-week deadline.

Prosecutors for the US Government have also been given a further two weeks to submit detailed grounds for appeal.

A decision is likely to be made administratively on whether to allow the appeal before any hearing at the Court of Appeal.

The US government had already given notice of the move following Judge Baraitser’s ruling at the Old Bailey.

But the lodging of papers will come as a blow to Assange’s supporters who have called on President Donald Trump to put an end to the case before leaving office on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Assange’s partner Stella Moris said: “I urge the (US) Department of Justice to drop the charges and the President of the United States to pardon Julian.”

Julian Assange extradition
Julian Assange extradition

Assange remains in custody at high-security Belmarsh Prison despite fears over the risk of Covid-19 behind bars.

He has been held in Belmarsh since he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions in April 2019.

He had entered the building in 2012 after exhausting all legal avenues to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.

Assange is wanted in the US to face an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

It followed WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.

Prosecutors say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, was complicit in hacking by others, and published classified information that put the lives of US informants in danger.

Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence that anyone’s safety was put at risk.

His lawyers had said he faced up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government said the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.

The defence legal team argued that the US prosecution is political and said Assange, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, is a high suicide risk if he is extradited.

In her ruling, Judge Baraitser rejected a string of defence arguments, including freedom of speech and that the prosecution was politically motivated.

The judge said Assange’s dealings with Manning “went beyond the mere encouragement of a journalist” and that he was “well aware” of the danger to informants by disclosing unredacted names in leaked documents.

A van with an advert supporting Julian Assange circles Parliament Square in Westminster, London  (Jonathan Brady/PA)
A van with an advert supporting Julian Assange circles Parliament Square in Westminster, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

But on his mental health, she said: “Notwithstanding the strong and constant support he received from his family and friends, Mr Assange has remained either severely or moderately clinically depressed throughout his detention at HMP Belmarsh.”

She said there was a real risk he would be submitted to special administrative measures and detained at the ADX Florence Supermax jail, if extradited.

“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide, and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental health and I order his discharge.”