Julian Assange will not be held in a “supermax” prison if he is extradited to the US, American authorities have told Britain. They also said they would be happy for the Australian citizen to serve any custodial sentence there.
The British High Court ruled that the US government could appeal an earlier ruling that rejected its demand to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the US, to face espionage and computer charges.
A lower court in January turned down the US request, with a judge saying she was concerned that if he were sent to the America, there was a very real possibility the 50-year-old whistleblower might take his own life.
Mr Assange’s lawyers had told the court last year that if he was sent to America he would likely be held in so-called “supermax” facility in Colorado, where he would spent most of his time confined to his cell, and having to confront harsh measures.
Maureen Baird, a former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, who was called by Mr Assange’s lawyers had said: “From my experience, of close to three decades of working in federal prisons, I would agree that long term isolation can have serious negative effects on an inmate’s mental health.”
Mr Assange could face a penalty of 175 years imprisonment if convicted of charges related to the US Espionage Act, as well as computer hacking.
On Wednesday, as the court in London granted the US permission to appeal the ruling on three out of five grounds.
Two were technical legal grounds relating to the interpretation of case law by the judge in the lower court.
According to part of the judgement shared by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with the media, the court also said the third ground for appeal that had been granted was that the “United States has provided the United Kingdom with a package of assurances which are responsive to the District Judge’s specific findings in this case”.
It added: “In particular, the United States has provided assurances that Mr Assange will not be subject to SAMs or imprisoned at ADX, unless he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances that meets the tests for the imposition of SAMs or designation.”
It said the US had also “provided an assurance that the United States will consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him”.
The development, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, came as the judge also ordered that Mr Assange must remain in prison during any potential US appeal, ruling that he “has an incentive to abscond” if he were freed.
Friends, relatives and supporters of the WikiLeaks’ founder point out he has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since he was arrested in April 2019, when he was detained for skipping bail seven years earlier. He has always insisted he took refuge in Ecuador’s Embassy, where he was granted asylum because he feared the US wanted to punish him for the role of his organisation in exposing what he and his supporters say were war crimes committed during the “war on terror”.
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, has said the way Mr Assange has been treated by Britain and the US amounts to “collective persecution”. He has also condemned the way the US held whistleblower Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement.
Ms Manning was among the best known of WikiLeaks sources, and in early 2010 provided hundreds of thousands of secret documents to the site. She did so after becoming horrified at what the US and its allies were doing.
Among the material was a piece of footage showing two US AH-64 Apache helicopters attacking buildings in Baghdad in 2007, and then closing in a group of people on the ground. Among them were children and journalists.
Ms Manning was eventually charged with 22 offences. A court martial sentenced her to 35 years in a a military prison at Fort Leavenworth. She spent seven years in jail before her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, Mr Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, urged Joe Biden to drop the prosecution launched under his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Ms Moris, who has two young sons with Assange, said outside the High Court that the WikiLeaks founder was “very unwell” in prison.
“He won his case in January. Why is he even in prison?” she said.
“I’m appealing to the Biden administration to do the right thing. This appeal was taken two days before the Trump administration left office, and if the Biden administration is serious about respecting the rule of law, the First Amendment and defending global press freedom, the only thing it can do is drop this case.”
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