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Julian Assange Extradition Decision Delayed; “Assurances” of the US

April 19, 2024 IN WIP
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11 April, 5 years in Belmarsh Prison

PEN Melbourne and Melbourne for Assange presented the following letter to the British Consulate. Versions of the letter were also sent to the US Ambassador, Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and PM Anthony Albanese.

 

The Rt Hon James Cleverly

Secretary of State for the Home Department

2 Marsham Street

London

SW1P 4DF

By email:

withammp@parliament.uk

public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk

 

10 April 2024

Dear Home Secretary,

We are writing to express our serious concerns regarding the possible extradition of Mr Julian Assange to the United States where he could face the death penalty.  We ask you to reject the US government’s extradition request.

On 26 March, 2024, the UK Divisional Court ruled:

Mr Assange will not, therefore, be extradited immediately. The Court has given the Government of the United States 3 weeks to give satisfactory assurances: that Mr Assange is permitted to rely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which protects free speech), that he is not prejudiced at trial (including sentence) by reason of his nationality, that he is afforded the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen and that the death penalty is not imposed.

We raise two questions regarding the above ruling.

How can a satisfactory assurance be made that the death penalty will not be imposed when:

  1. An assurance given by the Biden administration could be overturned by a new Trump administration, if it were to be elected?
  2. An assurance given in relation to the current US indictment would not apply to any new charges that may be laid once Assange was extradited?

 

It is important to note that the Obama administration decided that Assange could not be charged because it would contravene the First Amendment. However, the Trump administration concocted a way to charge Assange using espionage laws which were never intended to be used, and have never been used before, against a publisher.

 

The use of extraterritorial reach in this case is also of great concern. A dangerous precedent is being set by the Trump administration’s use of the espionage laws against a publisher who is not even a US citizen and was not even in the US when the Wikileaks material was published.

 

According to PEN International President, Burhan Sonmez:

 

‘Using espionage laws to target journalists and publishers who disclose information in the public interest infringes fundamental rights of press freedom and freedom of expression, both safeguarded within the legal framework of the UK. Assange’s case is politically motivated and challenges the core of investigative journalism and democratic principles, necessitating the protection of these rights for the broader preservation of a free and responsible press. PEN International and PEN Centres around the world have repeatedly called on the US authorities to drop the charges against Assange and to withdraw their extradition request. With the prospect of his extradition alarmingly close, we call on the UK authorities to urgently refrain from extraditing him and to release him from prison immediately.’

On the 11th of April 2024, Mr Assange will complete five years in Belmarsh maximum security prison after spending seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy as a political refugee. His arrest in the Embassy for breaking bail in a Swedish case that had been under investigation for nine years without ever producing a charge, and his subsequent five years of imprisonment would be considered political persecution if carried out in Russia or China.

Of course, all of this has had a toll on Mr Assange’s wellbeing. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Dr Alice Edwards, has said she still has concerns about Assange’s “precarious mental health”.

“It is regrettable that the court did not comprehensively address the possibility of a disproportionate penalty for Mr Assange in the US, of up to 175 years and likely no less than 30 years,” she said. “Or the potential that he would likely be held in ongoing solitary confinement. Either of these could amount to inhuman treatment.”

Now, the power lies in your hands. You will decide whether to approve or reject Mr Assange’s extradition to the US where the death penalty will be a real possibility.

We therefore urge you to reject extradition and free Mr Assange immediately.

Dr Josephine Scicluna, PEN Melbourne

Constantine Pakavakis, PEN Melbourne

Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne

Raine Sinclair, Melbourne4Assange

 

On 16th April, the US submitted the following “assurances”.

The first point “Assange will have the ability to raise and seek to rely upon at trial the rights and protections given under the First Amendment…” is in fact an admission that it cannot give an assurance of the First Amendment protection because of the separation of powers and it acknowledges this by saying “…the applicability of the First Amendment is exclusively within the purview of the US courts.”


NEXT STAGES OF COURT HEARINGS:

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE            AC-2022-LON-001745 and 1746

KING’S BENCH DIVISION

DIVISIONAL COURT

 

President of the King’s Bench Division and Mr Justice Johnson

 

BETWEEN:

 

JULIAN PAUL ASSANGE

                                                                                                                            Applicant

                                                                  -and-

 

(1) GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

(2) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT

                                                                                                                      Respondents

 

UPON the applicant’s renewed application for leave to appeal against the First Respondent’s decision to send his case to the Second Respondent and against the Second Respondent’s decision to order his extradition

AND UPON the court’s order of 26 March 2024

AND UPON respondents filing an assurance with the court on 16 April 2024 (see paragraph 5(i) of that order)

It is ordered that:

  1. The adjourned hearing of the applicant’s application for leave to appeal on grounds iv), v) and ix) is listed to heard on 20 May 2024 with a time estimate of 2 hours. If the parties disagree with the time estimate they shall inform the court of their time estimate by 4pm on 24 April 2024.
  2. If the applicant wishes to attend the hearing (whether in person or by video link) he shall, by 30 April 2024, file with the court a request for a production order (no formal application is required). If the court receives such a request, then the court will then make a production order, enabling the applicant to attend the hearing.
  3. In accordance with the order of 26 March 2024, the parties have permission to file further written submissions on the issue of leave to appeal, in the light of the assurance that has been filed, such submissions to be filed by the applicant by 30 April 2024, and by the respondents by 14 May 2024.

Dated: 17 April 2024


26 March 2024:

We – PEN International and the undersigned PEN Centres – renew our call to immediately free Julian Assange following today’s UK High Court’s decision to adjourn his permission to appeal his extradition order, on the grounds that his extradition would breach his right to freedom of expression, that he might be prejudiced on account on his nationality, and that he might potentially face the death penalty. The Court has given the UK and the US permission to file any assurances by 16 April and, if no assurances are filed, leave to appeal will be granted.

Journalists and publishers sometimes risk their lives to uncover truths that powerful entities seek to conceal. By recognising that the UK and the US have not provided sufficient assurances, the High Court has proven that the concerns and fears expressed by Assange, his family and his legal team are well-founded.

Yet the court rejected some of Assange’s arguments, including that his extradition was political. We remain deeply concerned by the fact that the US was granted more time to make diplomatic assurances – despite Assange facing the risk of serious human rights violations if extradited to the US – and of the dangerous prospect of Assange’s extradition going ahead.

Once again, we urge the US authorities to drop all charges against Assange and withdraw their extradition request. We further call on the UK authorities to refrain from extraditing Assange, to release him from Belmarsh prison immediately, and to ensure he is reunited with his family.

We stand unwaveringly alongside Assange and fellow publishers and journalists around the world who courageously defend truth and justice in the face of adversity.

Signed by

PEN International

English PEN

PEN Melbourne

PEN Sydney

PEN Norway

PEN Slovenia

Scottish PEN

Swedish PEN

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange was arrested in April 2019 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been given asylum for almost seven years. He was arrested for breaching his bail conditions in 2012 and further arrested on behalf of the US authorities under an extradition warrant for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. In the US, Assange would face trial on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which combined could see him imprisoned for up to 175 years.

In March 2022, the UK Supreme Court denied Assange’s request to appeal an earlier decision by the UK High Court that permitted his extradition to the US – which in turn had overturned a previous ruling by the District Court that found extradition would endanger his life. On 17 June 2022, the UK Home Secretary approved his extradition. His legal team lodged an appeal at the UK High Court. In a three-page judgment issued on 6 June 2023, the UK High Court rejected all eight grounds of Assange’s appeal against his extradition order. Assange made a renewed application for appeal to the High Court on 13 June 2023. A panel of two judges reviewed the decision on 20 and 21 February 2024. Representatives of

PEN International, English PEN and PEN Norway attended the public hearing, reiterating their call to stop the extradition of Assange.

Julian Assange, born on 3 July 1971, is the first publisher to be charged under the US Espionage Act. On 15 November 2023, PEN Norway awarded him the 2023 Ossietzky Prize for outstanding contributions to freedom of expression. He is an honorary member of several PEN Centres.

For more information about PEN International’s campaign for Julian Assange, please see please see War, Censorship and Persecution, PEN International’s Case List 2023/2024, which documents 122 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Assange.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo, Head of Europe and Central Asia Region at PEN International: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International