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A British court on Tuesday ruled that the U.S. cannot extradite Julian Assange on espionage charges unless American officials assure that he will not face the death penalty for his alleged crimes. 

“If assurances are not given then we will grant leave to appeal without a further hearing,” Judge Victoria Sharp said. “If assurances are given then we will give the parties an opportunity to make further submissions before we make a final decision on the application for leave to appeal.”

Judges Sharp and Jeremy Johnson argued that the U.S. must afford Assange, a 52-year-old Australian national, “the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen and that the death penalty is not imposed.” 

The judges rejected most of Assange’s appeals – six of nine he lodged, including allegations that his prosecution is political. The judges dismissed his claim, saying that while he “acted out of political conviction… it does not follow, however, that the request for his extradition is made on account of his political views.” 

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“Extradition would result in him being lawfully in the custody of the United States authorities, and the reasons (if they can be called that) for rendition or kidnap or assassination then fall away,” the ruling said, also avoiding concerns about an alleged CIA plot to kidnap or kill Assange while he remained hunkered down in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Assange faces 17 counts under the Espionage Act for allegedly receiving, possessing and communicating classified information to the public, as well as one charge alleging conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. If extradited, Assange would stand trial in Alexandria, Virginia, and could face up to 175 years in a maximum security prison if convicted. 

The charges were brought by the Trump administration’s Justice Department over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of cables leaked by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

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The information detailed alleged war crimes committed by the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp, as well as instances of the CIA engaging in torture and rendition.

The Obama administration in 2013 decided not to indict Assange over WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of classified cables because it would have had to also indict journalists from major news outlets who published the same materials.

A protester holds a placard outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

President Obama also commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence for violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses to seven years in January 2017, and Manning, who had been imprisoned since 2010, was released later that year.

But the Justice Department under President Trump later moved to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, and the Biden administration has continued to pursue his prosecution.

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A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment.

Stella Assange

No publisher had been charged under the Espionage Act until Assange, and many press freedom groups have said his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent intended to criminalize journalism.

Stella Assange, wife of Julian, called her husband a “political prisoner” and demanded the Biden administration to outright drop the “shameful” case against him.

“This case will determine if he lives or dies, essentially,” she told the BBC. 

Fox News Digital’s Landon Mion and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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