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London High Court grants Julian Assange the right to appeal extradition to the U.S.


Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has permission to appeal his extradition. The United States wants him to stand trial for his role in releasing thousands of U.S. government documents back in 2010, the documents related to U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. For years, he's been in London. And now the U.K.'s highest court has raised questions about whether he would receive a fair trial in the U.S. and said his appeal can proceed before he's brought across the Atlantic. Reporter Willem Marx in London has been covering this. Welcome back.

WILLEM MARX: Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how did this court case come down today?

MARX: Well, one of Assange's lawyers submitted that he would not be able to lean on his First Amendment rights in a U.S. file because of his nationality. He said U.S. assurances that he'd be able to were, quote, "not an assurance at all," since the U.S. only said Assange, quote, "may seek to raise his First Amendment rights." Ultimately, it would be up to the court in the U.S. to allow him to use that right in his defense.

And the lawyers for the U.S. government argued Assange's alleged conduct was, quote, "simply unprotected by the First Amendment" because he published what they considered, quote, "illegally obtained national defense information that placed sources at risk." Those apparent concerns, though, about Assange's ability to rely on his First Amendments for his defense in a U.S. courtroom seem to have been strong enough for the British judges here in London to allow him to appeal.

INSKEEP: OK. So this is not the final word. It is saying that there can be an appeal. These arguments can be heard in a further proceeding. How did we get to this moment?

MARX: So back in March, the High Court here in London considered Assange's attempts to appeal his extradition from the U.K. to the U.S. That's something that Britain's interior minister had already approved. The U.S., don't forget, wants to charge him with 17 acts of espionage, one of computer misuse. Assange's team sought to appeal on nine different grounds, but back in March, the court said he had a, quote, "real prospect of success" in only three of those grounds.

The judges then said they wanted assurances linked to those three possible grounds for appeal from the U.S. government about Assange's potential treatment were he to end up in the American legal system - namely, that he'd be able to rely on his First Amendment rights, that he'd be treated no differently to a U.S. citizen, and he would not receive the death penalty. And it's on that issue of his First Amendment rights that Assange can now pursue an appeal here in Britain.

INSKEEP: OK. So we know what's not going to happen next. He's not going to get on a plane or be put on a plane and brought to the U.S. What is going to happen next?

MARX: Well, not anytime soon at least, Steve. He can appeal the British government's decision. That could be a hearing a few months from now. It might lead to his eventual release. That's kind of one possibility. If the court says, sorry, but your appeal has been denied after all; you can be extradited to the U.S., then he could appeal above that to the European Court of Human Rights. That would require a very quick turnaround by his legal team and for the court to intervene very quickly to stop a claim. That's option two.

Option three - he ends up in a U.S. court eventually but is actually acquitted and then released. And of course, option four - his team saying he could theoretically receive a prison sentence of up to 175 years. But it's important to note nobody really expects he'll get quite that long of a sentence, Steve.

INSKEEP: Amazing range of outcomes from zero days in prison in the United States to many, many years. Willem, thanks so much.

MARX: Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Willem Marx. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Willem Marx
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