A summary of the Appeal Hearing in the Assange case

The British Supreme Court of Justice is now hearing the appeal against the decision denying the extradition of journalist Julian Assange.

The Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as officials say, has gone from being a dull building to the center of an international process regarding governments, intelligence agencies and private companies against a journalist. This sudden change began when Julian Assange, disguised as a motorcycle boy, arrived on the scene to seek political asylum because of developing threats about his work. Over the next seven years, the journalist did not set foot outside the Embassy, but still managed to become a major digital influence for journalists, activists and politicians, developing the greatest tool in the modern press: WikiLeaks. But, at the very moment of this publication, he is attending an appeal hearing involving a possible extradition to the United States where, if tried and convicted, he could receive a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.

The hearing lasted two days, between the Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight of October, and focused specially on the mental health of the journalist. On the prosecution side, the topic was set as a way to deny medical evidence that Assange has severe depression and is a patient at high risk of suicide. This new case is a result of a decision made in January, given by First Instance Judge Vanessa Baraitser, which the outcome denied the journalist’s extradition because of the “oppressive” conditions of U.S. prisons, adding to the consideration that he would be at high risk of suicide if extradited.

The prosecution had as its largest proof an “omission” in the testimony made by the psychiatrist who evaluated the journalist in prison and gave his diagnosis to the court, Professor Michael Kopelman. The doctor knew about the relationship between Assange and Stella Moris, revealed to the public only last year, and the couple’s two children, but chose not to state this fact in his testimony to protect the couple’s privacy —especially Moris’. The prosecution’s thesis is that this omission was a serious fact that may have negatively influenced the January’s decision, since the judge was unaware of it. This thesis, however, was proven wrong as Ms. Baraitser knew about it. “In my judgment, Professor Kopelman’s decision to conceal their relationship was misleading and inappropriate in the context of his obligations to the court, but an understandable human reaction to Ms. Moris’s difficult situation”, the magistrate wrote in her decision in January. She also reaffirmed that after the relationship went public last year, the psychiatrist included it in her report.

Although the prosecution stated that the journalist could serve his sentence in Australia if he was extradited, tried and convicted, the lawyers challenged the ‘offer’ and called the guarantee “reservations, vague or simply ineffective”, recalling that the process of transferring him to Australia could take years. In addition, the defense said that removing the journalist from near his family and his support network — WikiLeaks co-workers, press officials, human rights lawyers and supporters — would aggravate his already deteriorating mental health. “It is perfectly reasonable to find it oppressive to extradite a person with a mental disorder because his extradition will likely result in his death,” Edward Fitzgerald, the defense’s attorney, stated to the court, asking judges to “protect people from extradition to a foreign state where we have no control over what will be done to them.”

Fitzgerald also argued that in January, Baraitser carefully evaluated the testimony and evidence of the defense and prosecution and applied an appropriate test based on the case’s case law —Turner’s Criteria. The test was created after the judgment of “Turner against the United States Government, 2012”, in which the extradition of Ms. Turner was blocked because of “The physical or mental conditions of the person are such that it would be unfair to extradite him.” This particular judgment opened a series of precedents for which an individual should not be extradited on account of his mental health. One of the criteria, cited by the judge in her decision, is that the individual’s condition must be so severe that it completely removes the ability to resist the urge to commit suicide.

Another aggravating factor for the journalist’s mental health is the recent revelation by Yahoo News, based on more than thirty conversations with former government officials, that the country’s largest intelligence agency, the CIA, made serious plans during Donald Trump’s Republican administration to kidnap and assassinate Julian Assange while he was in asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy. According to the report, this “revenge-seeking” would come after the publication of a series of documents from the agency’s hacking and spying sector by WikiLeaks. “They were looking at blood,” says a former officer. Certainly, the factor of extraditing an individual to a country that has drawn up plans – which were structured and fortified with the former president’s approval — to assassinate him is a major burden on his mental health.

After the lunch break, attorney Mark Summers started his defense by arguing against the prosecution’s “assurances” surrounding the conditions Assange would be in a United States prison, pre- and after trial. These conditions involve, for example, the use of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a set of rules designed to allow the government to restrict contact that dangerous prisoners may have with the outside world. This set of rules is considered the darkest corner of the United States federal prison system, uniting the brutality, confinement, and isolation of maximum security units. Among the rules, for example, there is a ban on private communication between client and lawyer —something considered an infringement of human rights and illegal in several countries.

The prosecution argued that not necessarily the measures would be used in Assange’s case, but that they could be used by the United States government at any time if there was a risk to national security. This fact shows that there would be no guarantee in an agreement between the defense and the prosecution, and that the United States Government could do whatever it wanted at any time. In addition, Summers said other guarantees involving prison conditions remain delayed, as the First Instance Judge addressed them in January, and that “they cannot be considered in good faith, considering the vengeful plans of the United States, particularly the CIA’s injurious plans.”

As stated by journalists present at the hearing through a virtual room, there is no indication of what decision the British Supreme Court will make. It is possible that the appeal will be denied and, if this is the case, it is also possible that the journalist will be released from Belmarsh prison since, in January, Baraitser decided to keep him in custody until the end of the United States appeal. It is unlikely to claim that the United Kingdom would accept the appeal, even knowing the diplomatic issues between the powers, because of the international attention of the case. This week, not only did the United Nations made a statement about the judgment, but also Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, as well as several other organizations and press entities. The judges responsible for the case have up to a month to formalize their decision and, until then, the suffering of one of the greatest defenders of the press and freedom of speech will remain wrongfully imprisoned in British Guantanamo.

Translated by Lucas Teixeira Lopes

Student of International Relations. MUN Teacher. Translator of Articles and Comics/Manga. Passionate about what I do. Contact: lt.lopes@hotmail.com

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