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Assange wins first stage of appeal bid against extradition to the US

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holroyde agree the Wikileaks publisher can take his case to the Supreme Court

JULIAN ASSANGE won the first stage of his appeal at the High Court today against the decision to extradite him to the US.

The Wikileaks founder is wanted in the US over allegations of conspiracy to disclose information on the nation’s war crimes and human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He faces prosecution on 18 charges and faces a 175-year sentence.

In December, US authorities won their High Court challenge to overturn an earlier ruling that Mr Assange should not be extradited due to a “real and oppressive” risk to his life.

His lawyers are seeking to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court by arguing that it raises “serious and important” legal issues.

For an appeal to be considered by Britain’s highest court, a case must raise a point of law for “general public importance.”

Today, two senior judges ruled that there was a point of law, but refused permission for the appeal.

But Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holroyde did agree that Mr Assange could ask to bring the appeal to the Supreme Court himself.

Mr Assange’s lawyers have two weeks to make the application to the court.

His fiancee Stella Moris said the decision was a win, but warned that Mr Assange was still “far from justice in this case.”

She said: “Let’s not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn’t dropped, as long as Julian isn’t freed, Julian continues to suffer.

“For almost three years he has been in Belmarsh prison and he is suffering profoundly — day after day, week after week, year after year. Julian has to be freed and we hope that this will soon end.

“Our fight goes on and we will fight this until Julian is free.”

National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet also welcomed the decision, saying that the case “is damaging media freedom every day that it drags on.”

She said: “The US is seeking to extradite Assange on charges that relate to the very business of gathering and processing news.

“For as long as this is treated as a potentially indictable offence, reporters, doing important work, will be looking over their shoulders.”

Following the January 2021 decision against Mr Assange’s extradition, the US government provided fresh assurances that he would not be subject to a system of solitary confinement and would be allowed to serve his sentence in his native Australia.

But these assurances have not been subject to testing in court, a factor likely to be among the reasons behind the most recent British judgment.

Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders said the decision “was not yet far enough” but a “step in the right direction.”

Speaking outside the court, she said: “This case is historic, it will be precedent-setting.

“It will have implications for journalism and press freedom in the UK, the US and internationally for many years to come.

“We call on the Biden administration to drop the charges and to close this case once and for all.”

Labour MP Richard Burgon called the decision “an important step towards justice.”

He tweeted: “Extraditing Julian Assange to spend the rest of his life in a US prison is a blatant attempt to intimidate journalists and whistleblowers. It must be opposed.”

The decision was also welcomed by groups including the Peace and Justice project and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

During the extradition hearing, several days focused on the penal conditions in which Mr Assange might be held.

These included potential incarceration in ADX Florence Colorado, a “supermax” security facility where prisoners such as Mexican drug lord El Chapo and al-Qaida preacher Abu Hamza are held in solitary confinement, with restricted access to family and lawyers.

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