British Supreme Court says Assange cannot appeal his extradition to US

If Julian Assange were extradited to the US and faced a trial, the case could raise profound First Amendment issues. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - Britain's Supreme Court on Monday (March 14) said it had refused the latest appeal by Julian Assange, the embattled WikiLeaks founder, to prevent his extradition to the United States.

The announcement was a blow to Assange, coming just months after a high court said he would be able to appeal a decision by a lower court that would allow for his extradition. But he has not exhausted all his legal options in the British courts, his lawyers said.

The Supreme Court in a statement on Monday said it had refused permission to appeal "because the application does not raise an arguable point of law."

Mr Barry Pollack, an American lawyer for Assange, condemned the ruling.

"It is extremely disappointing that the UK Supreme Court is unwilling to hear an appeal of an issue that the UK High Court had already deemed to be of great public importance," Mr Pollack said. "Mr Assange will continue the legal process fighting his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for publishing truthful and newsworthy information."

Assange's legal team in London indicated that the decision on extradition would be referred back to the lower court that originally assessed the US request, which would then put the final decision in front of Ms Priti Patel, Britain's Home Secretary.

Ms Patel would then decide whether to order the extradition, but Assange's defence team will also be entitled to make submissions to her before she issues a decision. A spokesman for the Home Office said it was up to the court to consider extradition cases, and declined to comment on its findings.

Crucially, the Birnberg Peirce law firm, which is representing Assange in Britain, said he had not exhausted his ability to appeal in regard to "other important issues he raised previously" in that lower court decision.

The firm said it regretted "that the opportunity has not been taken to consider the troubling circumstances in which requesting states can provide caveated guarantees after the conclusion of a full evidential hearing".

The firm's statement referred to the initial argument for appeal, which had turned on the timing of when the United States made assurances that Assange would be treated humanely in an American prison if found guilty.

"In Mr Assange's case, the court had found that there was a real risk of prohibited treatment in the event of his onwards extradition," the firm said.

Assange was charged in the United States under the Espionage Act in connection with obtaining and publishing secret government documents centred around US actions during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were published on WikiLeaks in 2010 after being leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst.

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Jan 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

In 2019, Assange was arrested in London after spending years holed up inside the Ecuadorean embassy in the city. In January 2021, a lower court judge ruled that Assange could not be sent to the United States to stand trial because there was no guarantee that he would be cared for and he was in a fragile mental state.

But last December, a high court reversed that decision, saying that the United States had made ample assurances that Assange would receive proper care.

In January, the High Court ruled that he could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court on a narrow point - the timing on when the United States gave those assurances about humane treatment. Monday's announcement means that the Supreme Court has denied that appeal.

If Assange were extradited to the United States and faced a trial, the case could raise profound First Amendment issues. His prosecution has alarmed advocates of press freedom.

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