LONDON — A British court on Monday gave Julian Assange permission to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court its decision to extradite him to the United States, giving the WikiLeaks founder another day to fight his long legal battle against his forced removal to America.
The 50-year-old Australian activist and journalist will remain in London’s Belmarsh prison, where he has been held since April 2019, after the Ecuadoran Embassy revoked his political asylum.
Assange’s way forward is narrow. A British high court agreed Monday that Assange has a point of law that is potentially of “general public importance.”
That means he may appeal to the Supreme Court on that point of law. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will accept the case. That decision will come in the next days, weeks or months.
The point of law is over whether assurances by the U.S. government that it will not send Assange to a supermax prison or long solitary confinement — assurances given to the high court and not a lower magistrates’ court — came at the right time in the proceedings.
“The ruling means that Assange has cleared a procedural hurdle,” said Nick Vamos, former head of extraditions for the Crown Prosecution Service and now a partner at Peters & Peters law firm in London.
Vamos said it remains an open question whether the Supreme Court will hear Assange’s final appeal on a point of law. “That could go either way,” he said.
Stella Moris, Assange’s former lawyer and now his fiancee and mother of his two sons, told reporters outside the courthouse, “Let’s not forget that every time we win, as long as this case isn’t dropped, as long as Julian isn’t freed, Julian continues to suffer.”
Moris said the Assange legal team would send its request to be heard to the Supreme Court.
U.S. prosecutors allege that Assange, who was charged during the Trump administration, helped Chelsea Manning hack into classified information and published thousands of pages of military records and diplomatic cables about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thus putting the lives of allies in danger.
Assange’s supporters say he was acting as an investigative journalist who uncovered damning material about American actions abroad. They say the extradition and prosecution will undermine press freedoms in the United States.
A British judge last year ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the United States because he would be at high risk of suicide in the U.S. prisons, which allow inmates to be held in solitary confinement for years.
The U.S. government appealed that decision, asserting that a psychiatrist who examined Assange was biased and that Assange’s mental health was not a barrier to extradition.
The appeals court agreed with the U.S. government and said Assange could be sent to the United States to face charges in northern Virginia.
Under President Biden, the Justice Department assured the British courts that Assange can be put on trial in the United States despite his mental health issues.
The U.S. government in October promised the British courts that if Assange were convicted, he would not be sent to the highest-security U.S. prison or automatically be placed in solitary confinement. He also could seek to serve his sentence — if he was found guilty — in his native Australia.