The United States accuses the Australian of the publication in 2010 by his WikiLeaks site of 250,000 diplomatic cables and approximately 500,000 confidential documents relating to the activities of the American army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What are the charges against him?
Once he sets foot in America, Julian Assange might no longer be a free man. Prosecutions for “computer hacking” were launched secretly at the end of 2017. But he was not charged with “espionage” until May 2019. If he is transferred to the United States, he will be tried in federal court in Virginia and will face 17 charges, including obtaining and disclosing information relating to national defense. He faces up to 175 years in prison.
The lawsuit is expected to be a bitter battle over the Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press. In an attempt to escape it, the American authorities insist that Julian Assange is neither “a journalist” nor “a press editor”, and that he has endangered agents and military sources. But the case raises difficult legal questions at a time when citizen-journalists are spreading on the internet. It is likely to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
What assurances have been given by the United States?
In January 2021, a British court refused the American extradition request, considering that the conditions of imprisonment in the United States risked fueling his suicidal tendencies. The US government finally convinced an appeals court to agree with it by providing several safeguards. Washington assured that Assange would receive appropriate care and would not be incarcerated at the ADX very high security prison in Florence (Colorado), nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.
The WikiLeaks founder would not be subject to “special administrative measures” before, during and after the trial. The term covers in particular a regime of almost total isolation, frequently denounced by human rights associations. Julian Assange will finally be able to ask to serve his sentence in Australia, once all appeals have been exhausted. But its defenders do not trust the United States, which they accuse of having “often broken promises on detention”.
Can he still block this extradition?
According to a poll conducted in April 2019, 53% of Americans supported his extradition to the United States and only 17% opposed it. The Australian has 14 days to appeal to the British High Court. The hearing would probably not take place before 2023.
He could also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a generally long process. Apart from legal remedies, his extradition could be delayed for medical reasons if his health deteriorates. His wife assured that he had had a micro stroke last October.