Julian Assange extradition: U.S. fails to guarantee First Amendment protection

Photo: Getty images, London, Feb 21, 2024

At the conclusion of Julian Assange’s extradition appeal hearing in London’s High Court in February 2024, the two judges presiding reserved their decision pending the submission of certain assurances by the U.S. administration. 

These assurances concerned the following:

  1. That the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment relating to free speech would be applicable
  2. That Assange would not be disadvantaged during the trial or sentenced because of his nationality
  3. That the death penalty would not be applicable should Assange be convicted.

The U.S. submission in response to the High Court’s request does not bode well for Assange. In short, Assange still faces the prospect of being extradited to the U.S. where he has been indicted on 18 alleged criminal charges with a potentail prison term of 175 years.

The requested U.S. submission was submitted to the High Court by the deadline of 16th April 2024. For what they are worth, while assurances relating to points (2) and (3) were provided, no guarantee concerning point (1) was forthcoming. On the contrary, the U.S. submission stated that while Assange would be able to “seek to rely” upon the U.S. Constitution’s provisions for free speech, “a decision as to the applicability of the first amendment is exclusively within the purview of the US courts”.1

This alone should result in the High Court granting Assange a new appeal against being extradited to the U.S.

In an interview on RN Breakfast, Jennifer Robinson, counsel to Assange and Wikileaks, described the U.S. response on the First Amendment as a “non-assurance”, meaning that Assange can neither rely on the protection of the First Amendment nor presume that it will protect him as an Australian citizen.2

Robinson also said that Assange and his family were under a huge amount of mental and physical stress, given that President Biden last week stated that his administration is “considering” dropping the case, only to be followed this week by the submission of “assurances”, indicating the administration’s determination to press ahead with the extradition.

In a post on social media, Assange’s wife, Stella, said that the U.S. assurances filed with the High Court were “weasel words” that did “nothing to relieve our family’s extreme distress about his future”.3

Rebecca Vincent, from Reporters Without Borders, is reported as saying that the U.S. assurances needed to be thoroughly examined by the court and that Assange’s appeal should not be dismissed on the basis of “essentially political promises”.4

Assange’s lawyers have previously described U.S. assurances submitted in other cases as not “worth the paper they’re written on”. Similar criticisms have been made by human rights groups, including Amnesty International.5

In a joint statement in February 2024, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) warned that the “ongoing prosecution of Julian Assange jeopardises media freedom everywhere in the world.”6

The next High Court hearing in the Assange appeal case, which will be tasked with assessing the U.S. assurances, is scheduled to take place on 20th May 2024.

1. Riley Stuart, ‘Julian Assange extradition edges closer after US promises not to seek death penalty’, ABC News, Apr 17, 2024.
2. Patricia Karvelas, ‘Julian Assange extradition: US provides UK court with assurances’ – interview with Jennifer Robinson, RN Breakfast, Apr 17, 2024.
3. Riley Stuart, n1.
4. Ibid.
5. Caroline Schelle and Hannah Kennelly, ‘Julian Assange extradition moves closer as US provides British court with assurances’, The Brisbane Times, Apr 17, 2024.
6; IFJ & EFJ, ‘UK: Assange prosecution threatens press freedom’, European Federation of Journalists, Feb 14, 2024.

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