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US government appeals UK ruling against Julian Assange's extradition


The US government has appealed a UK judge’s ruling against the extradition of the WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, according to a justice department official.

The appeal made clear that Joe Biden intends to have Assange stand trial on espionage- and hacking-related charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents.

The justice department had until Friday to file an appeal against the ruling on 4 January that Assange suffered mental health problems that would raise the risk of suicide were he extradited to the US for trial.

“Yes, we filed an appeal and we are continuing to pursue extradition,” a justice department spokesperson, Marc Raimondi, told AFP.

Human rights groups had called on Biden to drop the case, which raises sensitive transparency and media freedom issues.

After WikiLeaks began publishing US secrets in 2009, the Obama administration – in which Biden was vice-president – declined to pursue the case. Assange said WikiLeaks was no different than other media outlets constitutionally protected to publish such materials.

Prosecuting him could mean also prosecuting powerful US news organisations for publishing similar material – legal fights the government would probably lose.

But under Donald Trump, whose 2016 election was helped by WikiLeaks publishing Russian-stolen materials damaging to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, the justice department built a national security case against Assange.

In 2019, Assange, an Australian national, was charged under the US Espionage Act and computer crimes laws on multiple counts of conspiring with and directing others, from 2009 to 2019, to illegally obtain and release US secrets.

In doing so he aided and abetted hacking, illegally exposed confidential US sources to danger and used the information to damage the US, according to the charges. If convicted on all counts, the 49-year-old faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years.

John Demers, an assistant attorney general, said at the time: “Julian Assange is no journalist.”

Assange has remained under detention by UK authorities pending the appeal.

This week 24 organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA and Reporters Without Borders, urged Biden to drop the case.

“Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret,” they said in an open letter. “In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalise these common journalistic practices.”



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