US government WINS right to challenge evidence claiming Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to America because ‘he would be a suicide risk’
- Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled in January not to extradite the WikiLeaks founder
- Lord Justice Holroyd and Mrs Justice Farbey grant challenge to her decision
- Julian Assange logged into High Court hearing from Belmarsh Prison, London
- Stella Moris – with whom he shares two young sons – watched the proceedings
- US lawyers argued that psychiatrist who assessed him had ‘misled’ the court
- Prof Michael Kopelman accused of withholding info about Assange’s children
The US government has today been allowed by the High Court in London to expand the basis of its appeal against a judge’s decision not to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to America in case he takes his own life.
The US’s legal team told senior British judges that Assange, 50, who was watching from jail, is not ‘so ill’ that he would be unable to resist killing himself if he was extradited to America for trial over the leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents.
At the heart of the row is London-based psychiatric expert Professor Michael Kopelman, whose evidence was central to the judge’s finding that Assange would be at risk of suicide in an American prison.
But today the US argued that Professor Kopelman’s assessment should have been ‘excluded or given little weight’ because he allegedly knew of Assange’s two secret children when he made his first mental health assessment – but withheld the information.
Assange had two children with Stella Moris, who was at the High Court today supported by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Stella and Julian had Gabriel, 3, and Max, one, while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, keeping their relationship and family a secret from the outside world until last September.
Clair Dobbin QC said today: ‘Experts aren’t allowed to mislead the court for any reason, let alone apparently … to protect the privacy of Mr Assange’s family. We say that ought to have been of real concern to the court and it ought to have come to a much more exacting analysis of Professor Kopelman’s evidence.’
Julian Assange (left) appearing by video link at the High Court in London where the US Government won the right to widen its appeal against the decision to extradite him
A tearful Stella Moris, the mother of Assange’s two secret children, speaks to the media and supporters at the High Court in London today after the US’ appeal against his extradition moved forward
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joins Assange supporters outside as the High Court before addressing the crowd
Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice as the preliminary hearing on the United States government’s appeal began
The US prosecution team insists he ‘misled’ Judge Vanessa Baraitser who then relied on it in her judgment where in January not to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to face espionage charges.
At the heart of the row is London-based psychiatric expert Professor Michael Kopelman, whose evidence was central to the judge’s finding that Assange would be at risk of suicide in an American prison
And this afternoon Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mrs Justice Farbey, granted the US permission to challenge Judge Varaitser’s decision. The full appeal will be heard in October.
He said it was ‘very unusual’ for an appeal court to have to consider evidence of an expert, which has been accepted by a lower court, who has been found to have misled the court.
The judge said it is ‘at least arguable’ that the judge erred in basing her conclusions on the professor’s evidence in those circumstances.
He added: ‘Given the importance to the administration of justice of a court being able to reply on the impartiality of an expert witness, it is in my view arguable that more detailed and critical consideration should have been given to why (the professor’s) ‘understandable human response’ gave rise to a misleading report.’
Both sides will now prepare for the full appeal, which will be heard in person on October 27 and 28.
If Assange is extradited, the US has said it would consent to him being transferred to Australia to serve any prison sentence he may be given.
Assange, 50, is wanted in America on allegations of a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
However, after a multi-week extradition hearing last year, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange should not be sent to the US, citing a real risk of suicide.
Outside protesters pressed on with their demonstration in support of Assange. By the afternoon a crowd, who had begun their protest at 9am, was still outside the High Court shouting its support and calling for Assange to be freed.
They held banners which read ‘journalism is not a crime’ and ‘no extradition’. They had also tied yellow ribbons and a torn union flag with the words ‘truth on trial’ written on it to the railings at the front of the court building.
The US government was previously allowed to appeal against her decision on certain grounds, which Assange’s legal team described as ‘narrow’ and ‘technical’.
Assange, 49, faced an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information
Stella Moris, the mother of Julian Assange’s secret children, Max and Gabriel (pictured left and right) this weekend said Britain ‘would no longer be a haven for free speech’ if he was extradited
On Wednesday, the US made a bid at the High Court to expand the basis that can be used for its main appeal against the district judge’s decision.
Dozens of Assange supporters, including his partner Stella Moris, gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the hearing, chanting and waving signs.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also seen outside the central London building, telling supporters that the US government should ‘wind their necks in’ and allow Assange to go free.
Julian Assange will NOT be held in a supermax jail if he’s extradited, US assures UK
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will not be held in supermax prison conditions if he is allowed to be extradited to the United States, American officials have assured British authorities.
American officials have made the compromise in the hopes of finally ending the lengthy battle to put Assange, 50, on trial for espionage charges in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
If Assange is convicted in an American court, U.S. officials have also said the Australian would be allowed to serve jail time in his home country, the outlet reported.
The revelations were made in a court ruling provided by the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service obtained by the outlet.
Assange has been in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in April 2019 for skipping bail seven years earlier during a separate legal battle.
He had spent seven years holed up inside Ecuador’s London embassy, where he fled in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks´ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
The prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published.
Assange appeared at the hearing via video-link from Belmarsh Prison, wearing a dark face covering and a white shirt, with what appeared to be an untied burgundy tie draped around his neck.
In her ruling, Judge Baraitser found that ‘the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide’ if he was extradited.
Clair Dobbin QC, for the US, argued there is a ‘need for anxious scrutiny’ of Assange’s reported mental health.
The barrister said part of the US government’s appeal will focus on the requirement in law that an individual must be ‘so ill’ that they are unable to resist suicide for a decision to be taken not to prosecute – or in Assange’s case, extradite – them.
She told the court: ‘It really requires a mental illness of a type that the ability to resist suicide has been lost.
‘Part of the appeal will be that Mr Assange did not have a mental illness that came close to being of that nature and degree.’
In the US government’s written argument, she continued: ‘He has not made the sort of serious attempt on his life or have the history of serious self-harm seen in other cases.
‘He has never previously suffered from the sort of mental health condition that deprived him of the ability to make rational choices.’
Ms Dobbin also told the court that the need for scrutiny is ‘substantially increased’ given the background – including the ‘extraordinary lengths’ Assange has already gone to in order to avoid extradition.
‘He was willing to break the law and no cost was too great, both in terms of the cost of policing his being in the embassy and of course the cost to himself,’ she said.
In the US government’s written case, Ms Dobbin said that £16 million of taxpayers’ money had been spent to ‘ensure that, when Mr Assange did leave the embassy, he was brought to justice’.
The US authorities have also claimed that evidence from Assange’s psychiatric expert, Professor Michael Kopelman, should have been dismissed or had less weight attributed to it.
Ms Dobbin argued that the expert misled Judge Baraitser during the original extradition proceedings by ‘concealing’ the fact that Assange had fathered two children during his time in the embassy until March 2020, when he ‘chose to deploy that information in support of his bail application’.
In her ruling, Judge Baraitser also said there was a ‘real risk’ Assange would be locked up at the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, if convicted, which would lead to his mental health deteriorating.
Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice during the U.S. government appeal
Supporters encouraged drivers to beep their horns in support of the WikiLeaks founder
However, the US has said it would consent to Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any prison sentence he may be given.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Assange, told the court that Judge Baraitser, having heard all of the evidence in the case, was in the best position to assess it and reach her decision.
He said Professor Kopelman’s report, in which he did not reveal the true nature of Assange’s relationship with Ms Moris, was given long before any court hearing and against a background of concern for the ‘human predicament’ in which Ms Moris found herself at the time.
The barrister said this included fears for her safety and that of the couple’s two children, after a surveillance organisation had taken DNA from their baby’s nappy, then turned its attention to Ms Moris and plotted to kidnap or poison Assange.
Mr Fitzgerald said: ‘The district judge was right to find that she had not in fact been misled, and that it was an understandable response to Ms Moris’s predicament.
‘The court had become aware of the true position in April 2020.’
Timeline: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s long legal battle
Assange creates Wikileaks with a group of like-minded activists and IT experts to provide a secure way for whistleblowers to leak information. He quickly becomes its figurehead and a lightning rod for criticism.
March: U.S. authorities allege Assange engaged in a conspiracy to hack a classified U.S. government computer with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
July: Wikileaks starts releasing tens of thousands of top secrets documents, including a video of U.S. helicopter pilots gunning down 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. What followed was the release of more than 90,000 classified US military files from the Afghan war and 400,000 from Iraq that included the names of informants.
August: Two Swedish women claim that they each had consensual sex with Assange in separate instances when he was on a 10-day trip to Stockholm. They allege the sex became non-consensual when Assange refused to wear a condom.
First woman claims Assange was staying at her apartment in Stockholm when he ripped off her clothes. She told police that when she realized Assange was trying to have unprotected sex with her, she demanded he use a condom. She claims he ripped the condom before having sex.
Second Swedish woman claims she had sex with Assange at her apartment in Stockholm and she made him wear a condom. She alleges that she later woke up to find Assange having unprotected sex with her.
He was questioned by police in Stockholm and denied the allegations. Assange was granted permission by Swedish authorities to fly back to the U.K.
November: A Swedish court ruled that the investigation should be reopened and Assange should be detained for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. An international arrest warrant is issued by Swedish police through Interpol.
Wikileaks releases its cache of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.
December: Assange presents himself to London police and appears at an extradition hearing where he is remanded in custody. Assange is granted conditional bail at the High Court in London after his supporters pay £240,000 in cash and sureties.
February: A British judge rules Assange should be extradited to Sweden but Wikileaks found vows to fight the decision.
April: A cache of classified U.S. military documents is released by Wikileaks, including intelligence assessments on nearly all of the 779 people who are detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
November: Assange loses High Court appeal against the decision to extradite him.
June: Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London requesting political asylum.
August: Assange is granted political asylum by Ecuador.
June: Assange tells a group of journalists he will not leave the embassy even if sex charges against him are dropped out of fear he will be extradited to the U.S.
August: Swedish prosecutors drop investigation into some of the sex allegations against Assange due to time restrictions. The investigation into suspected rape remains active.
July: Wikileaks begins leaking emails U.S. Democratic Party officials favoring Hillary Clinton.
November: Assange is questioned over the sex allegation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the presence of Sweden’s assistant prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and police inspector Cecilia Redell. The interview spans two days.
January: Barack Obama agrees to free whistleblower Chelsea Manning from prison. Her pending release prompts speculation Assange will end his self-imposed exile after Wikileaks tweeted he would agree to U.S. extradition.
April: Lenin Moreno becomes the new president of Ecuador who was known to want to improve diplomatic relations between his country and the U.S.
May: An investigation into a sex allegation against Assange is suddenly dropped by Swedish prosecutors.
January: Ecuador confirms it has granted citizenship to Assange following his request.
February: Assange is visited by Pamela Anderson and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
March: The Ecuadorian Embassy suspends Assange’s internet access because he wasn’t complying with a promise he made the previous year to ‘not send messages which entailed interference in relation to other states’.
August: U.S. Senate committee asks to interview Assange as part of their investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
September: Assange steps down as editor of WikiLeaks.
October: Assange reveals he will launch legal action against the government of Ecuador, accusing it of violating his ‘fundamental rights and freedoms’.
November: U.S. Justice Department inadvertently names Assange in a court document that says he has been charged in secret.
January: Assange’s lawyers say they are taking action to make President Trump’s administration reveal charges ‘secretly filed’ against him.
April 6: WikiLeaks tweets that a high level Ecuadorian source has told them Assange will be expelled from the embassy within ‘hours or days’. But a senior Ecuadorian official says no decision has been made to remove him from the London building.
April 11: Assange has his diplomatic asylum revoked by Ecuador and he is arrested by the Metropolitan Police; he is remanded in custody by a judge at Westminster Magistrates Court.
April 12: He is found guilty of breaching his bail terms.
May 1: Sentenced to 11 months in jail.
May 2: Court hearing takes place over Assange’s proposed extradition to the U.S. He tells a court he does not consent to the extradition and the case is adjourned until May 30.
May 13: Swedish prosecutors reopen rape case saying they still want to question Assange.
June 3: Swedish court rules against detaining him in absentia, setting back the extradition case.
June 12 Home Secretary Sajid Javid signs an extradition request from the US.
June 13 A hearing sets out the date for Assange’s full extradition hearing – February next year.
November Swedish prosecutors stop investigation into an allegation of rape against Mr Assange
November 25 – Medics say without correct medical care Assange ‘could die’ in Belmarsh
December 13 – Hearing in London hears he is being blocked from seeing key evidence in case
December 19 – Appears at Westminster Magistrates Court via video-link where his lawyer claims US bid to extradite him is ‘political’.
February 24 –Assange faces an extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court.
Assange’s representatives argue he cannot legally be handed to the US for ‘political offences’ because of a 2003 extradition treaty.
March 2 – Assange appears by video link at Westminster Magistrates Court, where he is refused bail amid the coronavirus crisis.
April 11 – Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, who gave birth to his two children while he was living inside the Ecuadorian embassy, issues a plea for his release amid fears for his health.
June 24 – The US Department of Justice issues an updated 18-count indictment, over Assange’s alleged role in ‘one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States’.
August 25 – Ms Moris visits her partner in Belmarsh prison for the first time in almost six months.
September 7 – Assange’s extradition hearings resume at the Old Bailey. They are expected to go on for up to four weeks.
October 1 – Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned the case at the Old Bailey until January 4.
January 4 – Judge Baraitser strikes down US extradition bid.
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