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Assange Granted Temporary Reprieve from Extradition as UK Court Seeks US Assurances

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted permission by the High Court in London to advance his appeal against extradition to the United States on espionage charges. The court’s ruling stated that Assange could proceed with his challenge at a full hearing unless the U.S. provided satisfactory assurances regarding key issues such as his protection under the First Amendment and assurance against the death penalty. Additionally, it emphasized that Assange should not face prejudice based on his nationality during trial or sentencing.

The decision comes after Assange has fought extradition for over a decade, spending seven years in self-exile at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the subsequent five years in Belmarsh Prison. U.S. prosecutors allege that Assange endangered lives by aiding U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing and publishing diplomatic cables and military files. He faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.

Prosecutors argue that Assange’s actions jeopardized national security interests and endangered individuals mentioned in the leaked documents, including Iraqi and Afghan civilians who aided U.S. forces. In response, Assange’s defense contends that he engaged in journalistic practices of obtaining and disseminating classified information, suggesting that the prosecution is politically motivated retaliation for WikiLeaks’ exposure of U.S. government misconduct.

WikiLeaks gained notoriety in 2010 with the release of a classified video showing a U.S. military helicopter firing on civilians, including journalists, in Baghdad. Manning, who leaked the video, was convicted of espionage but later had her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama. Assange’s lawyers argue that he could face up to 175 years in prison if extradited to the U.S., though American authorities suggest a shorter sentence.

Concerns about Assange’s health and well-being have been raised by his wife, Stella Assange, who warned that extradition could lead to his death. Assange’s legal troubles began with allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden in 2010, leading to his arrest in London. Seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy, he remained there until his eviction in 2019 and subsequent imprisonment for bail violations.

While a British court initially denied the U.S. extradition request in 2021, citing suicide risk, U.S. authorities won an appeal in 2022 after providing assurances about Assange’s treatment. Despite calls from the Australian parliament for Assange’s return to his homeland, he remains in British custody as extradition proceedings continue. Australian officials have sought diplomatic solutions to allow his return, citing the prolonged nature of the case.

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