UK judges have dealt a major blow to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, giving the US the right to extradite him to face charges.
US officials have won their bid to overturn the decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States to face charges.
The 50-year-old Australian has been charged in the US for his role in publishing classified military and diplomatic cables under the Espionage Act.
Washington came up with the challenge after a lower court judge in London ruled on January 4 that Assange would be at risk of suicide in the US justice system.
Assange, who denies any wrongdoing, was not in court during the trial.
District Judge Vanessa Barritser denies extradition on health grounds, saying Assange was likely to kill himself if held in harsh US prison conditions
Appealing that decision in the High Court in London, a US government lawyer denied that Assange’s mental health was too fragile to withstand the US judicial system.
Lawyer James Lewis said Assange “has no history of serious and permanent mental illness” and does not meet the threshold of being so ill that he cannot resist harming himself.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, however, also raised a report alleging that the CIA had considered killing or kidnapping Assange in 2017.
Mr Summers said the report suggests the CIA may be using its powers to testify that Assange should be subjected to special administrative measures “the moment he sets foot in the USA”.
The CIA declined to comment on the report, and lawyers representing the United States did not address it during their submissions to the court.
US officials have said that Assange could serve any American prison sentence he meets in Australia.
Foreign Minister Maris Payne has revealed that Julian Assange has rejected the Australian government’s attempts to contact him, reportedly ignoring the government’s calls on 29 occasions.
“I have tried to reassure Mr. Assange’s position consistently in terms of the legal procedures to which he is subject,” Senator Payne said. “I have consistently encouraged our consular staff to engage in his case and to assist him with consular assistance or medical assistance.
US prosecutors indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer abuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, although Mr Lewis said “the longest sentence ever for this crime is 63 months.”
Assange is being held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison and is likely to appeal the decision.
WikiLeaks made headlines in 2010 by publishing a vast archive of confidential American records, which Washington said put lives at risk.
Shortly afterwards, Sweden sought Assange’s extradition from Britain on charges of sex crimes.
He was ordered to be deported to Sweden in 2012, but instead fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London and lived there for seven years.
He was dragged in April 2019 and jailed for breaching his British bail conditions, although the Swedish case against him was dropped.