WikiLeak’s founder Julian Assange could be detained “in extreme isolation in a US prison” if he is extradited, his legal team argued on Thursday during the appeal trial that is underway before the UK’s High Court.
The US government filed the appeal, fighting a January district court decision that had blocked his extradition to the US, where he faces espionage charges that carry a maximum sentence of over 100 years in prison.
Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, accused US lawyers of seeking to “minimize the severity of Mr. Assange’s mental disorder and suicide risk.”
Washington had argued that district judge Vanessa Baraitser had been misled by neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman, who did not disclose that Stella Moris, a member of WikiLeaks’ legal team, was also Assange’s partner and had two children with him. The US argued that information was “a highly relevant factor to the question of likelihood to commit suicide.”
The WikiLeaks founder is currently being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison. He attended the hearing via video link, wearing a pale shirt, burgundy tie and dark facemask, and appearing tired, resting his head on his hand for several periods of time.
Outside the court in central London, Moris joined protesters demanding his immediate release. “I’m very concerned for Julian’s health,” Morris told reporters after visiting Assange in prison on Saturday.
“He is very thin. And I hope that the courts will end this nightmare,” she added.
What did the US government argue?
US lawyer James Lewis promised that Assange would not be held before trial in a top-security “Supermax” prison or subjected to strict isolation conditions — the key issue that blocked the extradition.
If convicted, the 50-year-old would be allowed to serve his sentence in Australia, Lewis said, adding that these assurances “are binding on the United States.”
But Assange’s legal team rejected the notion, saying that Australia has not yet agreed to take Assange if he is convicted and that even if it did, the legal process could take a decade, “during which Mr. Assange will remain detained in extreme isolation in a US prison.”
Fitzgerald said the new US assurances provided “no reliable basis” for reversing the extradition block and did not sufficiently rule out the chance of Assange being detained at a supermax facility or “comparable” prison.
What are the accusations against Assange?
The WikiLeaks founder was arrested in Britain in 2019 for skipping bail, after spending seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was avoiding extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges that were later dropped.
He has been accused of hacking and of violating the US Espionage Act. The 18 charges he has been levied relate to WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The UK High Court judges hearing the appeal are expected to deliver their ruling at a later date, but the legal fight could drag on for months or even years.
jcg/fb (AFP, AP)