On 24 January, the high court in London decided that Julian Assange can appeal to the supreme court to continue fighting extradition on 18 counts of ‘espionage’.
The US government has asked for Assange’s extradition because of his work at WikiLeaks. In 2010, WikiLeaks publicised documents leaked by Chelsea Manning exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A district judge at Westminster magistrates’ court ruled in January 2021 that the extradition should not go ahead because ‘the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him’ to the US.
The harsh prison conditions (SAMs) likely to be imposed by the US authorities, including a lack of contact with his family, created a substantial risk that he would die by suicide.
In December, the high court allowed an appeal by the US government. At this point, Assange had served over 1,000 days in Belmarsh high security prison in south-east London.
The court ruled that Assange could be deported after all because assurances had been received from the US that supposedly removed the risk of suicide. SAMs would only be imposed if Assange behaved in a way that (the US government believed) required such strict conditions.
Kill or kidnap
Assange’s supporters believe that relevant information was uncovered by Yahoo! News in September. That investigation found that senior officials in the CIA and in the Trump administration discussed kidnapping or killing Assange in 2017. He was then claiming sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy.
One former senior counter-intelligence official told the online outlet: ‘There seemed to be no boundaries.’
This information should have affected the high court’s judgement of US assurances about Assange’s treatment. It didn’t. The final decision on whether Assange should be extradited was passed to the secretary of state, Priti Patel.
While the ‘kill or kidnap’ discussions were going on, in late 2017, US intelligence picked up reports that Russian spies were preparing to smuggle Assange out of the UK to the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow.
According to Yahoo! News, one of the possible counter-operations prepared by the CIA involved shooting out the tyres of the Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off.
The British government agreed that British personnel would do the shooting, if gunfire was required, according to a former senior Trump administration official.
In November, Assange was given permission by the governor of Belmarsh to marry his partner, Stella Moris, in prison. The ceremony has not yet taken place.