UK Supreme Court Declines to Hear Assange’s Appeal

The extradition case against Assange just grew a whole lot uglier. The UK Supreme Court has declined to hear his case.

It seemed like journalism and free speech was in a somewhat precarious situation earlier this year. In January, Wikileaks co-founder, Julian Assange, won the right to appeal his extradition case. The US has been demanding that the Australian citizen be extradited to the US to face extradition charges related to the crimes of journalism and embarrassing the US government after he helped exposed corruption and war crimes to the public.

The extradition case has been going on for years. Initially, Assange won his case after a judge blocked the extradition case. This on the grounds that the US penal system is so bad, it wouldn’t prevent Assange from taking his own life. The US Biden Administration rejected the calls for human rights and appealed the decision, putting political revenge as a priority over all else.

When US authorities won on appeal, Assange’s lawyers appealed the decision. Many supporters fear that the moment Assange treads on US soil, he would become a dead man walking. Of course, the case goes far beyond the life of a journalist who ended up knowing too much. The case threatens to send a message that if you publish news that embarrasses the US government enough, the US government will stop at nothing to have you murdered.

Perhaps the most stark aspect of this is the fact that all this is now happening as the Russian government threatened people who call the war on Ukraine a “war” or an “invasion”. The “fake news” laws has forced many media outlets to pull their journalists from the country, calling into question whether or not real independent journalism can continue to operate in Russia. The fact that the US government is seeking Assange’s head for journalism really paints a picture of how the US government is sinking to the level of the Russian government on this file.

Now, we are learning that the UK Supreme Court has declined to hear Assange’s appeal. From Al Jazeera:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against moves to extradite him to the United States, where he could face a lifetime in prison.

“The application has been refused by the Supreme Court and the reason given is that application did not raise an arguable point of law,” a Supreme Court spokesperson said on Monday.

Assange’s legal team said they will make representations to Patel as she considers whether to allow or block the extradition.

It also indicated it could launch further appeals on other points in the case.

“No appeal to the High Court has yet been filed by him in respect of the other important issues he raised previously,” his lawyers Birnberg Peirce Solicitors said in a statement.

“That separate process of appeal has, of course, yet to be initiated.”

Meanwhile, Barry Pollack, Assange’s US-based lawyer, said Monday that it was “extremely disappointing” that the UK’s Supreme Court is unwilling to hear the appeal.

“Mr Assange will continue the legal process fighting his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for publishing truthful and newsworthy information,” he said.

Human Rights organization, Amnesty International, blasted the decision as a major blow for justice and bad news for press freedom:

Responding to a UK Supreme Court decision refusing to grant Julian Assange permission to appeal against the previous High Court ruling permitting his extradition, Amnesty International’s Deputy Research Director for Europe Julia Hall, said:

“Today’s decision is a blow to Julian Assange and to justice. The Supreme Court has missed an opportunity to clarify the UK’s acceptance of deeply flawed diplomatic assurances against torture. Such assurances are inherently unreliable and leave people at risk of severe abuse upon extradition or other transfer.

“Prolonged solitary confinement is a key feature of life for many people in US maximum security prisons and amounts to torture or other ill treatment under international law. The ban on torture and other ill-treatment is absolute and empty promises of fair treatment such as those offered by the USA in the Assange case threaten to profoundly undermine that international prohibition.

“The refusal is also bad news for press freedom since it leaves intact the nefarious route the US has employed to attempt to prosecute publishers for espionage. Demanding that states like the UK extradite people for publishing classified information that is in the public interest sets a dangerous precedent and must be rejected. The US should immediately drop the charges against Julian Assange.”

The International Press Institute joined in the loud chorus of those who were not happy with the decision:

IPI continues to strongly oppose Assange’s prosecution under the Espionage Act on grounds that it poses a critical and unacceptable threat to the media’s right to gather and publish information that is in the public interest. The use of this 1917 law, which criminalizes the disclosure of classified information, sets a dangerous precedent for punishing journalists in relation to core news gathering and reporting activities. It has the potential to cast a chilling effect over national security reporting in the U.S. and around the world.

Assange now has limited options for further appeal. The extradition will need to be ratified by the UK’s home secretary, after which Assange can challenge the decision by judicial review. His legal team could also take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, according to reports.

Reporters Without Borders also expressed disappointment in the ruling:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is deeply disappointed by the refusal of the UK Supreme Court to consider the appeal in the extradition case against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange. More than two years after extradition proceedings began, the case will now be sent back to the Home Office to take a political decision. RSF urges the Home Office to act in the interest of journalism and press freedom by refusing extradition and immediately releasing Assange from prison.

“Julian Assange’s case is overwhelmingly in the public interest, and it deserved review by the highest court in the UK. After two full years of extradition proceedings, once again Assange’s fate has become a political decision. We call on the Home Office to act in the interest of journalism and press freedom by refusing extradition and releasing Assange from prison without further delay,” said RSF’s Director of Operations and Campaigns, Rebecca Vincent.

This announcement followed the 24 January decision by the High Court allowing Assange to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, requesting review of a narrow point related to the lateness in the US government’s provision of diplomatic assurances regarding Assange’s treatment if extradited.

RSF is deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, which represents a serious blow to Assange’s fight against extradition to the United States, where he faces the possibility of a prison sentence of up to 175 years in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of leaked classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. The documents exposed war crimes and human rights violations which have never been prosecuted.

The Internatoinal Federation of Journalists continued to call for the release of Assange:

The British Supreme Court has denied Julian Assange permission to appeal the decision to extradite him to the United States, where his life would be at risk. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today expressed its disappointment at the decision and called once again for the immediate release of Julian Assange.

The IFJ regrets that the opportunity has not been taken to consider the worrying circumstances in which requesting states may offer interim safeguards following the conclusion of a full evidentiary hearing. In Mr Assange’s case, the Court found that there was a real risk of prohibited treatment in the event of his extradition.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “Extraditing Assange to the United States would put his life in grave danger and we will fight tirelessly to prevent this. He must be released immediately and receive all the care that his medical situation requires.”

The precedence this sets is, of course, very ugly for not just journalists, but also freedom of expression. If someone decides that it is appropriate to blow the whistle on corruption from the US, the question could need to be asked: “Will the US government kill me if such information gets released even if it is the right thing to do?”

True, independent journalism has been on the decline for years. This especially thanks to the Trump administration polarizing the political landscape. It really brought forward this “us vs them” mindset where you have to agree with one particular political side all the time or be branded as a traitor or an impurity of a political movement. Criticism towards a political point is more frequently viewed as an attack on an entire political movement. The extradition of Assange will only exacerbate that mentality to the point where criticism of any kind could require looking through the lens of whether or not this represents a major risk to personal safety.

This is truly a dangerous road to travel down. Truth shouldn’t be subject to whether or not it meets political goals or agenda’s. It should simply be used to promote all that is good in society. By working to eradicate independent journalism, a vital component of society that seeks to hold power to account risks fading into the dustbin of history. Society, as a result, stands to suffer greatly as a result.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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