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Assange in final UK appeal against extradition to US

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-02-21 09:07

File photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange began his final legal challenge in the United Kingdom (UK) on Tuesday against his extradition to the United States on espionage charges.

The UK approved his extradition to the United States in 2022 under then Home Secretary Priti Patel after a judge initially blocked it on Assange's mental health concerns. Assange and his lawyers have appealed since then.

In a two-day hearing that ends on Wednesday, two judges at the UK High Court, namely Victoria Sharp and Justice Johnson, will hear his final appeal against being sent to the United States.

Assange, 52, is wanted in the United States on allegations of disclosing national defense information following WikiLeaks's publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked military documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars a decade ago, which included an Apache helicopter video footage documenting the US military gunning down Reuters journalists and children in Baghdad's streets in 2007.

Assange has been held at southeast London's high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. Lawyers for the United States said earlier that he would be allowed to transfer to Australia, his home country, to serve any prison sentence he may be given.

If the two judges at the UK High Court rule in Assange's favor, a full appeal hearing will be scheduled to consider his challenge and could lead to a new decision about his extradition.

If he loses the case on Wednesday, Assange's legal team has promised to apply for an emergency injunction at the European Court of Human Rights.

According to his legal team, Assange is not attending the hearing as he is unwell. His wife Stella Assange warned last week that his health was "in decline, physically and mentally".

Holding a placard saying "FREE JULIAN ASSANGE" among hundreds of protesters outside the High Court, local resident Aya Sycamore told Xinhua that she believes the case is "politically motivated". "He did nothing wrong, so he doesn't deserve to be in prison. He deserves to be free," she said.

"This is really wrong to keep an innocent man who only meant well for everybody to tell about the atrocities committed by the Americans," said Ela Ciecierska, also a local resident.

Edward George Green, who came from Birmingham on Tuesday morning, told Xinhua that Assange's being extradited to the United States will set "a horrible precedent" that could see people who want to "uncover the truth about war crimes" end up being imprisoned.

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of people gathered in the Republic Square in Paris, France, calling for the release of Assange. On the same day, rallies of varying sizes in support of Assange also took place in other French cities such as Bordeaux and Toulouse.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing French party "Unbowed France" (LFI), attended the rally in Paris. "France should grant him (Assange) political asylum and decorate him for his service to the nation. It is urgent to put an end to his martyrdom and that of his family," he said on X.

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