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European Parliament urges UK to release Assange as possible final appeal challenging US extradition begins

Julian Assange's possible final hearing challenging his extradition to the U.S. kicked off Tuesday morning in London, as more calls are made demanding his freedom.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's possible final hearing challenging his extradition to the U.S. to face charges for publishing classified U.S. military documents kicked off Tuesday morning at the British High Court in London.

Members of the European Parliament are the latest to call on the U.K. to halt Assange's extradition and release him from custody. Assange's possible final appeal before two judges to block his extradition will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, although a full appeal hearing could come in the future if he wins in court this week. If he is extradited to the U.S. after exhausting all his legal appeals, Assange would face trial in Alexandria, Virginia, and could be sentenced to up to 175 years in an American maximum-security prison. 

Supporters in London, Washington, D.C., and cities around the world will hold rallies on Tuesday calling for Assange's freedom.

In a letter Monday, 46 members of the European Parliament called on U.K. Home Secretary James Cleverly to "ensure the protection and safety of Julian Assange, to release him from the prison, and to prevent his extradition," emphasizing that the freedom of the press and the public's right to be informed is at stake.


"Julian Assange has been part of the institution of a free press essential to any democracy by being at the forefront of investigative journalism," the letter reads. "With his work through WikiLeaks he has brought to light some of the most significant acts of government corruption, including war crimes and human rights abuses."

Assange, 52, is facing 17 charges for allegedly receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public under the Espionage Act, and one charge alleging a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

The charges were brought by the Trump administration's Justice Department over WikiLeaks' 2010 publication of cables leaked by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning detailing war crimes committed by the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp. The materials also exposed instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.

WikiLeaks' "Collateral Murder" video showing the U.S. military gunning down civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists, was also published 14 years ago.

The members wrote that the Australian publisher is "currently the target of a precedent-setting legal attack where a democratic government can criminalize a publication of truthful information" and that the charges against him "raise serious concerns about undeniable and far-reaching implications for press freedom and the practice of investigative journalism."

"If the U.S. is successful in having Assange extradited, it will have redefined investigative journalism," the members explained. "It will have extended its judicial reach internationally and applied it to a non-U.S. citizen without a corresponding extension of First Amendment rights."

Assange has been held at London's high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11, 2019, for breaching bail conditions. He had sought asylum at the embassy since 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations he raped two women because Sweden would not provide assurances it would protect him from extradition to the U.S. The investigations into the sexual assault allegations were eventually dropped.

While he was in the embassy, the CIA was exposed for spying on Assange and his lawyers. A judge recently ruled that a lawsuit brought against the CIA for spying on his visitors can move forward.

The Obama administration in 2013 decided not to indict Assange over WikiLeaks' 2010 publication of classified cables because it would have had to also indict journalists from major news outlets who published the same materials, which has been described as "The New York Times problem." Former President Obama also commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses to seven years in January 2017, and Manning, who had been imprisoned since 2010, was released later that year.


The Justice Department under former President Trump later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has continued to pursue his prosecution.

A U.K. District Judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if he was held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts later overturned that decision after receiving assurances from the U.S. about his treatment, and the British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

"Originally, the District Judge refused his extradition on the grounds that the harsh isolation conditions he would face in the U.S. prison system would put his life at risk," the letter from members of the European Parliament reads. "This ruling was only overturned on appeal after the U.S. offered conditional assurances, which Amnesty International called 'deeply flawed' as 'the fact that the U.S. has reserved the right to change its mind at any time means that these assurances are not worth the paper they are written on.'"

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, said earlier this month when addressing Assange's case that the "risk of being placed in prolonged solitary confinement, despite his precarious mental health status, and to receive a potentially disproportionate sentence raises questions as to whether Mr. Assange’s extradition to the United States would be compatible with the United Kingdom’s international human rights obligations, particularly under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as respective articles 3 of the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights."

The letter from the members of the European Parliament said, "U.K. authorities must match the gravity of Mr. Assange's situation with an appropriate level of protection, in line with the demands of the U.N. rapporteur on torture's recent statement."


Last month, a group of Australian lawmakers wrote a letter to U.K. Home Secretary James Cleverly demanding Assange's U.S. extradition be halted over concerns about his safety and well-being, urging the U.K. government to instead make an independent assessment of Assange's risk of persecution.

Assange's lawyer in the U.K., Jennifer Robinson, has previously said she fears he "would not survive if extradited to the U.S." His wife, Stella, told reporters last week that his life is at risk every day he remains in prison and she believes he will die if he's extradited.

Multiple efforts have been made by lawmakers in the U.S. and Australia in the last year to demand that Assange be set free, including a vote last week in which the Australian Parliament overwhelmingly supported calling on the U.S. and U.K. Governments to end Assange's prosecution.

"Regardless of where people stand, this thing cannot just go on and on and on indefinitely," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said before Parliament.

No publisher had been charged under the Espionage Act until Assange, and many press freedom groups have said his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent intended to criminalize journalism. U.S. prosecutors and critics of Assange have argued WikiLeaks' publication of classified material put the lives of U.S. allies at risk, but there is no evidence publishing the documents put anyone in danger.

In 2022, the editors and publishers of U.S. and European outlets that worked with Assange on the publication of excerpts from the more than 250,000 documents he obtained in the Cablegate leak – The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País – wrote an open letter calling for the U.S. to drop the charges against Assange.

Under the Trump administration, the CIA allegedly had plans to kill Assange over the publication of sensitive agency hacking tools known as "Vault 7," which were leaked to WikiLeaks, Yahoo reported in 2021. The agency said the leak represented "the largest data loss in CIA history."

The CIA was accused of having discussions "at the highest levels" of the administration about plans to assassinate Assange in London and allegedly followed orders from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo to draw up kill "sketches" and "options." The agency also had advanced plans to kidnap and rendition Assange and had made a political decision to charge him, according to the Yahoo report.

WikiLeaks also published internal communications in 2016 between the Democratic National Committee and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign that revealed the DNC's attempts to boost Clinton in that year's Democratic primary.

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