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UK Court to Decide Assange Extradition 05/20 06:18

   

   LONDON (AP) -- Lawyers for Julian Assange argued Monday that the U.S. 
provided "blatantly inadequate" assurances the WikiLeaks founder would have 
free press protections if extradited to America to face espionage charges.

   Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said prosecutors had failed to guarantee that 
Assange, who is an Australian citizen and claims protections as a journalist 
for publishing U.S. classified information, could rely on press protections of 
the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

   "The real issue is whether an adequate assurance has been provided to remove 
the real risk identified by the court," Fitzgerald said. "It is submitted that 
no adequate assurance has been made."

   The hearing in the High Court in London could end with Assange being sent to 
the U.S. to face espionage charges, or could provide him another chance to 
appeal his extradition.

   The outcome will depend on how much weight judges give to assurances U.S. 
officials have provided that Assange's rights won't be trampled if he goes on 
trial.

   Assange, 52, has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of 
computer misuse over his website's publication of a trove of classified U.S. 
documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange 
encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal 
diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published.

   Assange's lawyers have argued he was a journalist who exposed U.S. military 
wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the U.S., they said, would 
expose him to a politically motivated prosecution and risk a "flagrant denial 
of justice."

   The U.S. government says Assange's actions went way beyond those of a 
journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and 
indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

   In March, two judges rejected the bulk of Assange's arguments but said he 
could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the U.S. guaranteed he would 
not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech 
protections as a U.S. citizen.

   The court said that if Assange couldn't rely on the First Amendment then it 
was arguable his extradition would be incompatible with the European Convention 
on Human Rights, which also provides free speech and media protections.

   The U.S. provided those reassurances, but Assange's legal team and 
supporters argue they are not good enough to rely on to send him to the U.S. 
federal court system because the First Amendment promises fall short. The U.S. 
said Assange could seek to rely on the amendment but it would be up to a judge 
to decide whether he could.

   Attorney James Lewis, representing the U.S., said Assange's conduct was 
"simply unprotected" by the First Amendment.

   "No one, neither U.S. citizens nor foreign citizens, are entitled to rely on 
the First Amendment in relation to publication of illegally obtained national 
defense information giving the names of innocent sources, to their grave and 
imminent risk of harm," Lewis said.

   The WikiLeaks founder, who has spent the past five years in a British 
prison, was not in court to hear his fate being debated. He did not attend for 
health reasons, Fitzgerald said.

   Commuters emerging from a Tube stop near the courthouse couldn't miss a 
large sign bearing Assange's photo and the words, "Publishing is not a crime. 
War crimes are." Scores of supporters gathered outside the neo-Gothic Royal 
Courts of Justice chanting "Free Julian Assange" and "Press freedom, Assange 
freedom."

   Some held a large white banner aimed at President Joe Biden, exhorting: "Let 
him go Joe."

   Assange's lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, 
though American authorities have said any sentence would likely be much shorter.

   Assange's family and supporters say his physical and mental health have 
suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, which includes seven years 
spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London from 2012 until 2019. He has 
spent the past five years in a British high-security prison.

   If Assange prevails Monday, it would set the stage for an appeal process 
likely to extend what has already been a long legal saga.

   If the court accepts the word of the U.S., it would mark the end of 
Assange's legal challenges in the U.K., though it's unclear what would 
immediately follow.

   His legal team is prepared to ask the European Court of Human Rights to 
intervene. But his supporters fear Assange could be transferred before the 
court in Strasbourg, France, could halt his removal.

   Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson may also postpone issuing a 
decision.

   If Assange loses in court, he still may have another shot at freedom.

   Biden said last month that he was considering a request from Australia to 
drop the case and let Assange return to his home country.

   Officials provided no other details but Stella Assange said it was "a good 
sign" and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the comment was 
encouraging.

 
 
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