WikiLeaks founder’s extradition case labelled ‘institutional corruption’

The looming decision about whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be extradited has been condemned as “institutional corruption on a judicial level” at a press conference held by his team.

The fate of the WikiLeaks founder, whom the US government wants to extradite on computer hacking charges, is due to be decided at a High Court hearing on 20 May 2024.

Assange won a brief delay to US extradition attempts after his team pointed out he faced a trial where he would not benefit from First Amendment protections for journalists and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The High Court agreed there was a potential for capital charges to be laid and that it could fairly be assumed that US prosecutors could make a “tenable argument” that the Australian national was not entitled to First Amendment protections.

The US government had been granted permission to file assurances to the court on those issues and Assange’s team has responded in writing, ahead of Monday’s hearing.

At a press conference hosted by the Foreign Press Association, Stella Assange, the WikiLeaks founder’s wife, said: “The United States has been given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to change its case to get Julian extradited.

“Think about how bizarre this case is, where the United States has not only had two rounds of assurances, but also three sets of indictments. It seems like they are given endless chances to change their case to get Julian extradited to face 175 years for publishing evidence of US war crimes.”

If Assange loses at the hearing, his team will seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent the extradition, Stella Assange said.

Alternately, if Assange wins, he will be able to lodge a full appeal at a later date, or the High Court could exercise its discretion to hear a full appeal on Monday, the press conference heard.

Stella Assange said: “I have the sense that anything could happen at this stage. Julian could be extradited or he could be freed. This has gone on for over five years. Julian has been in the UK’s most notorious prison for that entire time.”

Kirstinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, called the process “institutional corruption on a judicial level”.

“The case is rigged against Julian. It is evident from all the opportunities the United States has been offered to amend their case when it was about to collapse, the judges here come out and give the opportunity to amend,” said Hrafnsson.

“I know these are harsh words, and words that we usually have for courts in non-European counties, non-Western countries, but I have come to the opinion that is absolutely the case.

The case is rigged against Julian. [He] is a political prisoner, it is abundantly clear Kirstinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks

“Julian Assange is a political prisoner, it is abundantly clear,” he added. “I hope you can look into the details of the case, where the evidence is screaming at you.”

Assange’s lawyer, Jen Robinson, said the Australian national’s team was continuing to work with the Australian prime minister to seek his return to his home country.

“This case is of huge legal significance, not just for Julian, but for journalists everywhere. He faces 175 years in prison for receiving, possessing and publishing national security information, for publishing truthful information about the US.

“What the US is doing is setting a precedent where they are exercising jurisdiction over any journalist or editor anywhere in the world who receives, possesses or publishes US information.”

Robinson said the US’s filed assurance had stated that Assange could seek to rely in court on the First Amendment but it would be a matter for the courts to decide whether he was able to do so.

“That is a non-assurance,” added Robinson. “It does not provide any assurance whatsoever about what will happen if he is extradited. This assurance does not bind the US court, it does not bind a prosecutor from arguing he does not benefit from the First Amendment.

“You all ought to be alert to this concern,” Robinson told the audience of mainly members of the media. “The ramifications of these decisions and the risk of his extradition, the rollercoaster this process has been, has placed a huge toll on his physical and mental health and a huge toll on the family.”

Robinson called on the US to drop the prosecution, which has been widely condemned by free speech advocacy groups.

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