Hearing Coverage

Recap and reactions to High Court appeal ruling

April 6, 2024 — Last month, the UK High Court issued a judgment that could grant Julian Assange limited permission to appeal his extradition to the United States but first gives the U.S. government an opportunity to give “assurances” to potentially head off an appeal altogether.

Press freedom organizations and journalistic unions welcomed the decision to avoid extradition for now, but they reiterated their calls for the U.S. to drop the charges.

UK High Court ruling

In the judgment issued on March 26, the UK High Court decided that three of Assange’s requested nine grounds of appeal have merit and invited the U.S. government and U.K. Home Secretary to offer “assurances” to address those grounds before giving its final ruling.

Stella Assange addressing the press after the court was adjourned

The court has ordered assurances be made that Assange will be granted First Amendment protections, that he will not be prejudiced at trial by reason of his nationality, and that he will not receive the death penalty.

The ruling gives the U.S. three weeks to provide assurances that would address these grounds. If the U.S. declines to do so, the court will grant Assange right to appeal on those grounds. If, as is expected, assurances are given, there will be a hearing on May 20, 2024, to decide if the assurances are sufficient and to give a final ruling on permission to appeal.

Press freedom groups warn threat to journalism remains

The court’s decision to avoid extradition for now was welcomed by press freedom organizations and journalistic unions across the globe, which reiterated their calls for the U.S. to drop the charges.

Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), said:

“We are glad Julian Assange is not getting extradited today. But this legal battle is far from over, and the threat to journalists and the news media from the Espionage Act charges against Assange remains”.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of the Committee to Protect Journalistssaid:

“It is time that the U.S. Justice Department put an end to all these court proceedings and dropped its dogged pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder.”

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institutesaid:

“The UK High Court’s ruling presents the U.S. government with another opportunity to do what it should have done long ago—drop the Espionage Act charges. Prosecuting Assange for the publication of classified information would have profound implications for press freedom, because publishing classified information is what journalists and news organizations often need to do in order to expose wrongdoing by government.”

Simon Crowther, Legal Adviser at Amnesty Internationalsaid: “Instead of allowing this protracted legal process to continue, the US should drop all charges against Assange”.

Whistleblower and source protection group WHISPeR urged the British court not to trust U.S. assurances:

“As attorneys who have represented several defendants under Espionage charges in media leak cases, we can speak to these issues from direct experience. Our clients have been denied both the right to present a First Amendment defense and the supposedly humane prison conditions promised by the Department of Justice. The U.S. government simply cannot make any meaningful assurance that any defendant can rely on First Amendment protections under an Espionage Act prosecution, much less a foreign citizen.”

Alice Jill EdwardsUN Special Rapporteur on Torturesaid:

“Irrespective of any assurances that may soon be provided by the US authorities, many of the questions that have been raised are within the ambit of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Karen Percy, Media President at MEAAsaid:

“We remain concerned that there is still no certainty an appeal against his extradition will proceed, and even if it goes ahead that only a small number of grounds of appeal are possible. (…) The only clear path to freedom is for the US to drop the charges.”

Expert panel reacts to appeal decision

Assange Defense convened a panel of experts to discuss the court’s ruling, which delayed Assange’s extradition, but only to allow the U.S. government to give assurances as to how Julian would be treated if he were extradited.

Panelists Marjorie Cohn, former president of the National Lawyers Guild; Kevin Gosztola, journalist and author of “Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case against Julian Assange”; Stephen Rohde, constitutional lawyer and author; and Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights & Dissent discussed the ruling, what it means, and what comes next.