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Assange's Best Hope May Be Change of UK Gov't as He Faces Extradition - Lawyer

© AFP 2021 / STEFFI LOOSJulian Assange, founder of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks, is seen through the eyepeace of a camera as he is displayed on a screen via a live video connection during a press conference on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016 in Berlin
Julian Assange, founder of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks, is seen through the eyepeace of a camera as he is displayed on a screen via a live video connection during a press conference on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016 in Berlin - Sputnik International
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court via video link from the high-security prison Belmarsh on Thursday for the first hearing on the US extradition request. Sputnik has discussed the prospects of the next hearing, as well as the possible moves of his defence team with James O'Neill, an Australia-based barrister.

Although Assange refused to consent to extradition, saying he was merely "doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people," the judge scheduled an additional hearing for May 30 and ordered that the US submit the necessary documents as part of the case by June 12.

Sputnik: Next extradition hearing will be scheduled for 30th of May. What can we expect from that hearing?

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James O'Neill: My understanding is that 30 May is only a procedural hearing date. The usual procedure would be for the Court to make orders to advance the case.  There are several very unsatisfactory matters relating to the extradition request. Not the least of these is information relating to an indictment which is a relatively minor charge.  It is uncertain whether what the Americans claim is even an offence under UK law or whether or not Assange is protected by the European conventions that the UK is a party to. These are matters that will no doubt form part of his defence against the extradition request.

Sputnik: The US did not provide full information on Assange’s extradition; a London court has ordered that the US must submit his documents by June 12. Why is it so? How this can impact the scheduled hearing?

James O'Neill: The court would need to be satisfied of a number of things, including the evidential basis upon which the US relies. The fact that a grand jury found the basis for a charge is insufficient to justify extradition. The grand jury does not form part of the UK system, having been abolished centuries ago, for very good reason. Those documents will be very important, but they are unlikely to be argued on 12 June. The likely refusal of the US to provide all the relevant information is one reason that this matter will be lengthy. It is alleged that Mr Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, but Ms. Manning refused to give evidence to the grand jury, which is the reason she in turn is now in prison. The treatment of Manning is an indication of how Assange could expect to be treated if he is extradited. 

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Sputnik: Under the 2003 Extradition Act, the UK is prohibited from extraditing someone to a country where they could face the death penalty. Are there any guarantees that Assange will not face death penalty if extradited?

James O'Neill: The UK would require a written guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be executed. The charge the US is currently relying upon with its extradition request does not carry the death penalty. It is widely considered however, that this charge is a facade and that should Mr. Assange be extradited he would immediately face other, much more serious charges, including treason, that does carry the death penalty. To be brutally frank, one would have to question the value of any assurances given by the US government, as they have for many years shown a complete disregard for legal obligations. As Mr. Putin put it a year or so ago, the Americans “are not agreement capable.” 

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Sputnik: How likely is it that Julian Assange’s legal team may be successful in appealing the whole case? 

James O'Neill: It's impossible to answer at this stage, as we do not have all the relevant information. One (member) of Mr. Assange’s legal team, Mr Geoffrey Robertson, has expressed confidence in the British judicial system.  I do not share that confidence, and the statements and conduct of the two judges who have dealt with Mr. Assange since his arrest and removal from the Ecuadorian embassy do nothing to inspire confidence. Given that the whole legal process is likely to be extended over a substantial period of time, Mr. Assange’s best hope may be for a change of government in the UK as Labour leader Mr. Corbyn has indicated that he does not support extradition.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

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