British courts have accepted the request of the US government to appeal the extradition case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The appeal will be heard on 27 and 28 October.
Last January, the UK courts blocked the US government’s attempt to extradite Assange, but decided to keep him in custody.
Citing concerns over his mental health and that he could commit suicide, Judge Vanessa Baritser ruled he must remain in the UK. But today, lawyers acting for the US government challenged the psychiatric evidence submitted during the previous case.
Rebecca Vincent, the Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, tweeted that the hearing consisted of the US government “continuing to grasp at straws in their relentless persecution of Julian Assange. They are determined to deport him at any cost, quite literally gambling with his life.”
Reporting from the courtroom, she explained that the lawyers for the US government centered their arguments on criticising the fact that his mental health symptoms were self-reported and trying to delegitimise the report of a psychologist.
Vincent noted that matters such as suicidal thoughts and auditory hallucinations can only ever be self-reported, casting criticism on the argument of the appeal lawyers.
Today’s ruling means the US government can appeal on the grounds related to Assange’s mental health, but also all five grounds relating to his extradition.
On Twitter, Vincent said it was “oddly specific” that the judge stated he is not required to be present for the appeal but can join via video link. She questioned why he wouldn’t be allowed to attend in person and why he wasn’t present today.
The judge was oddly specific that Assange is not required to be present for the appeal but can join via video link if he wishes. It’s unclear why he won’t be allowed to attend in person & why he wasn’t here today, left sitting alone in the prison video link room as we exited. 21/
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) August 11, 2021
Assange had requested to attend the hearing in person but was beamed in via live stream. There was no audio connection, and he did not address the court.
Assange is wanted in the US on 18 charges, including conspiring to hack into US military databases and then publishing sensitive information. In 2010 and 2011, thousands of US military reports were published on the Wikileaks site, founded by Assange.
These included various files, documents, and videos that were a source of great embarrassment to the US government. One example was a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad. It killed a dozen people, including civilians and two Reuters staff.
The leaks provided evidence that the US government intentionally misled the public about the war in the two countries and committed war crimes.
The files published on the site, mainly relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, were republished by numerous mainstream media portals worldwide.
The US claims that the publication of these documents was illegal and endangered lives. If Assange is extradited back to the US, he faces up to 175 years in prison.
Assange was then accused of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion in Sweden in 2010 after Wikileaks was launched. The charges are largely considered to have been fabricated to achieve extradition to Sweden, which would then extradite him to the US. These charges were dropped in 2019.
Before his arrest in the UK, Assange lived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after claiming asylum in 2012. The protection granted under asylum rules was removed in 2019, and British police stormed the embassy and removed him. He was arrested for breaching bail conditions in 2012. He has been kept at maximum-security Belmarsh Prison since.
The appeal process in October will result in a final decision on whether he is extradited to the US or not.
Vincent reiterated RSF’s position from outside the court that Assange has been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting, and that the case should be dropped. They are also calling for his release and no extradition, stating that otherwise, it could have “severe implications for the future of journalism.”
“The Biden administration could make this stop, we call on the government to drop the case.”
Protestors and activists assembled outside the court, calling for them to “free Assange” and criticising the British justice system.
Assange’s wife, Stella Morris, spoke through tears outside the court of death threats against her, her husband, and their children.
“These are sustained threats to his life for the last 10 years…this is our lives, we have the right to exist, we have a right to live, and we have a right for this nightmare to come to an end, once and for all.”