By Julia Conley
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s legal team said Wednesday that the United Kingdom’s High Court had granted permission to the U.S. government to appeal an earlier decision that blocked Assange’s extradition.
The court reportedly granted the appeal “on a limited basis” and on “narrow, technical grounds,” and did not set a date for a future court hearing.
The ruling led to intensified calls by Assange’s supporters for his release from Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, where he has been held for more than two years following seven years in isolation at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he claimed asylum.
The High Court’s decision “means he is still at risk of extradition where he faces a 175-year prison sentence and…is certain to lose his life if he is extradited,” said Stella Moris, Assange’s partner.
District Judge Vanessa Baraister ruled at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in January that Assange should not be extradited to the U.S., where the government is pursuing Espionage Act charges against him for his publication of military and diplomatic documents, on the grounds that Assange was at “substantial” risk for committing suicide in the “harsh conditions” of the U.S. prison system.
Baraister’s ruling led to calls for the U.S. to end its pursuit of Assange—which has been called a threat to press freedom all over the world by international rights groups including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation—but U.K. authorities continued his detention at Belmarsh pending the Biden administration’s appeal.
“The U.S. government should have accepted the Magistrates’ Court’s decision—instead, it keeps this case going,” Moris told reporters Wednesday.
Reporters Without Borders reiterated its demand for Assange’s freedom following the High Court ruling.
RSF Director of International Campaigns @rebecca_vincent: “We call again for the Biden administration to drop the appeal and close the case, and for the UK to immediately release Assange from prison, where his mental and physical health remain at high risk.”
— RSF (@RSF_inter) July 7, 2021
The High Court decision was handed down as a coalition of more than 250 medical professionals from 35 countries wrote to President Joe Biden, citing medical grounds as well as press freedom in their call for Assange’s release.
“Doctors for Assange is alarmed by recent reports that Julian Assange continues to suffer severe psychological abuse in HMP Belmarsh Prison,” wrote Doctors for Assange.
The United Nations’ top expert on torture, Nils Melzer, has condemned the U.S. and U.K. for violating Assange’s human rights and expressed serious concern over his treatment in prison, saying in 2019 after visiting Assange that he showed “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.”
“Mr. Assange continues to suffer serious, life threatening effects of the psychological torture he has been subjected to for more than a decade,” said the medical professionals. “His partner, Stella Moris, reports Mr. Assange is having ‘severe episodes’ in prison, and that he is suffering ‘mental turmoil.’ These symptoms, like the psychological trauma and suicidal ideation evidenced during Mr. Assange’s extradition hearing last fall, are expected consequences of psychological torture.”
Last week, supporters of Assange said the U.S. Department of Justice’s case against him had fallen apart after a key witness for the prosecution told Icelandic news outlet Stundin that his testimony against Assange was false.
“The collapse of the legal case against Assange makes his continued arbitrary detention in a dangerous prison all the more reprehensible, underscoring the urgent need for Biden to drop the case now,” said Doctors for Assange.
The medical professionals also cited international press freedom groups as well as lawmakers from across the political spectrum in the U.K., Australia, Germany, and Italy who have warned “the extraterritorial reach and unprecedented criminalization of publishing activity threatens journalists and freedom of speech worldwide.”
“Mr. Assange’s continued pursuit by the Biden administration calls into question the legitimacy of the United States’ stated commitment to press freedom, civil liberties, and human rights,” wrote the doctors.