At the end of the second day of a UK High Court appeal hearing to determine whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States, the judges said they’ve been given “much to think about” and will consider everything they heard.
No ruling has yet been handed down, independent journalist Richard Medhurst said on his Twitter feed, reporting from the court. The two judges hearing the appeal are expected to give their decision several weeks from now, press reports say.
The hearing started on Wednesday 27 October and proceedings opened with the US asking the High Court to overturn a judge’s decision that Assange should not be extradited to face charges of espionage and up to 175 years in prison.
The prosecutors vowed that Assange would be able to serve any prison sentence in Austalia, his native country.
In January of 2021, a lower court refused the US governments request to extradite him due to concerns over his mental health. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said there was a risk he would kill himself if held in hard US prison conditions.
The US governments lawyer, James Lewis argued on Wednesday that the judge was wrong when she ruled he could commit suicide. He said the authorities in the States pledged he would not be held in an infamous “Supermax” prison, or put into isolation.
These assurances “are binding on the United States”, he said.
Overall, their argument hinges on their claim that Assange does not meet the threshold for being so ill that he cannot stop himself from attempting suicide.
Assange does “not even come close to having an illness of this degree,” Lewis argued.
“Once there is an assurance of appropriate medical care, once it is clear he will be repatriated to Australia to serve any sentence, then we can safely say the district judge would not have decided the relevant question in the way that she did,” he argued.
This analysis of his health is in contradiction not only to medical professionals but a United Nations expert on torture who visited him in a British prison in 2019.
They observed an alarming deterioration in his mental and physical state including “extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and intense psychological trauma”.
This, the rapporteur said, was following “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”
Meanwhile, Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said that Australia had not agreed to let Assange serve his sentence there if convicted. If they did agree, the US legal system could take at least ten years, during which time he would remain in ‘extreme isolation in a US prison.”
He accused the US government of minimising the serious nature of Assange’s mental state.
Assange was due to attend the hearing via video link but Fitzgerald said he was on a high dose of an unnamed medication and did not feel well enough to attend.
Stella Morris, Assange’s partner and mother to his children said outside the court that she is very concerned for Julian’s health and that he is very thin.
At a previous hearing, Morris detailed how she and her children had received death threats and other threats of violence and called for an end to the ‘nightmare’.
While the case concluded today, the two judges are not likely to give their verdict for several weeks. Even then, the case can still be appealed to the Supreme Court, potentially extending proceedings for another year or more.
Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director at Reporters Without Borders who has been monitoring the trial for its duration, struggled to get a seat in court on Wednesday.
Despite being granted permission (eventually) for previous hearings, the organisation was not given permission on this occasion. She was only admitted to the court as she was on a list presented by the family of Assange.
The charges against Assange relate to the publication of hundreds of thousands of US military reports between 2010 and 2011 on the WikiLeaks site. The leak was embarrassing for the US government as it including damning evidence of US attacks on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as internal diplomatic cables.
The US filed 17 charges against him including conspiracy to hack US databases and publication of sensitive information.
But in the weeks leading up to today’s trial, the case started to show signs of weakness.
In September, Sigurdur Ingi Thoradarson, a convicted paedophile and fraudster and also the US government main witness, admitted to lying in his testimony. he also suggested he had done so to protect himself from being convicted for other crimes.
Just weeks later, it emerged that the CIA had allegedly planned to harm, or even kill Assange and some of his associates.
One of the tens of whistleblowers alleged there were several scenarios planned to deal with Assange. they included spying and escalated to abduction and murder. They also said that the CIA plans may have included influencing the prosecution in the ongoing case against him.
One of the whistleblowers is quoted as saying, “there seemed to be no boundaries” regarding what the CIA would do.