Contributed by Joe Montero
In the latest twist in the Julian Assange case, a British judge blocked the right of appeal. In a hearing that lasted barely 15 minutes, Westminster Magistrates Court Judge Paul Goldspring refused to give the defendant’s legal team permission to appeal against a previous court decision.
This had blocked the right of appeal to a lower court, which made its decision to allow the United States’ case for extradition, on the grounds of a suggestion by the American legal team that extradition may not lead to inhumane treatment is a good enough guarantee.
Others have pointed out that the suggestion is far from a guarantee. They now have four weeks to lodge an appeal to British Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has the power to decide whether to allow the extradition or not. There is also the possibility of a new appeal to the High Court and other legal options.
The legal team was not even permitted to submit its case, despite Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, saying that the legal team had “serious submissions” to make.
Once again, the defendant was denied the right to attend court in person and could only watch the proceedings through a video link.
Julian Assange’s case has always been highly politicised. Collaboration between the American and British governments decided its course, and Australia’s government has gone along with it.
The objectives are to shut down the capacity for further WikiLeaks exposures and make Assange an example to warn off others who might expose inconvenient truths. The case has far reaching implications in relation to the rights of journalists.
Washington seeks to have Assange face 17 counts of treason and a further charge of espionage, in an American tribunal that restricts the normal right to defence. To get this far, both countries have had to bend their own laws. The espionage charge claims that the accused had helped Chelsea Manning to access the codes to break into the CIA computer system and steal classified documents.
The espionage charge is widely regarded as a method to get around the difficulty of treason charges imposed on someone who is not a citizen of the United States, and the prohibition in British law of allowing extradition in politicised cases. Even so, the charge makes little sense when one considers that as an analyst Chelsea Manning already had access to the codes. She did not need help.
Supporters for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and should be protected by First Amendment protections of freedom of speech in the American constitution, when exposing cables and military files that showed wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, he has been held in high security Belmarsh prison in almost constant isolation, even though he has not been charged with a crime. This is another breech of proper legal process.
The case will be won politically through the weight of public opinion, which is strongly on Julian Assange’s side, and to the extent that it has created cross party support among politicians in Britain, the United States, and Australia. In Australia’s case, this has quickly grown from 2 to 29 members of the Liberal, National, Labor, and Greens parties. Others with similar sympathies have not come out into the open yet.
Campaigners will continue to raise the cause for Julian Assange’s freedom with the public.
Photo form Xinhua