A protest outside the high court against the extradition of Julian Assange (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The high court in London drew back on Tuesday from allowing the immediate extradition of anti-imperialist Julian Assange to the US. But if the US gives certain assurances, Assange will be on his way potentially to the depths of a US dungeon for life.

Crucially, the court denied the claim by Assange’s lawyers that the treaty with the US ruled out extradition for political offences. Had the court found this, then Assange could have brought forward an appeal against his continuing detention and possible extradition.

The court has given the US three weeks “to give satisfactory assurances” that Assange “is permitted to rely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” which protects free speech. It also wants assurances that “he is not prejudiced at trial (including sentence) by reason of his nationality and that the death penalty is not imposed.”

If the US does not give the assurances by 16 April, Assange will be granted a full appeal hearing. If the US does provide the assurances, there will be a further hearing on 20 May to rule if they “are satisfactory, and to make a final decision on leave to appeal”.

Speaking outside the court, Stella Assange, Julian Assange’s wife, urged the US government to drop the charges. “The Biden administration should not offer assurances. They should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought,” she said.

“Julian should never have been in prison for a single day. This is a shame on every democracy. Julian is a political prisoner.”

Assange’s “crime” was exposing atrocities committed by the US in the Afghan and Iraq wars. Information provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks from 2010 and 2011 included around 750,000 documents. 

They revealed how the US military killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan.

And leaked Iraq war files showed 66,000 civilians had been killed. One video from 2007 showed a helicopter gunman attacking unarmed Iraqi civilians, killing Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen, Saeed Chmagh and nine other men. Two children were seriously wounded.

Assange has been in Belmarsh prison in south London since he was snatched from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019. He faces 175 years in prison if he is extradited.

Further legal challenges are possible. In February Stella Assange said the legal team would “definitely and immediately file an application” with the European Court of Human Rights if blocked from further appeals in Britain.

A decision to extradite Assange would set a dangerous precedent of criminalising those who speak out against the brutal crimes of imperialism. It will further intimidate those who could reveal, for example, British and US collaboration with genocide in Gaza.

Rishi Sunak, Joe Biden and their allies are determined to lock up Chelsea Manning and Assange for revealing their military’s murderous deeds. He should be freed now.

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