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London court rules Assange can appeal against US extradition order

LONDON (AP) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal against extradition to the United States (US) on espionage charges, a London court ruled yesterday – a decision that is likely to further drag out what has already been a long legal saga.

High Court judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson said Assange has grounds to challenge the United Kingdom’s government’s extradition order.

Assange, 52, has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago.

His supporters cheered and applauded outside court as news of the ruling reached them from inside the Royal Courts of Justice.

The Australian computer expert has spent the last five years in a British high-security prison after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years. The WikiLeaks founder was not in court to hear his fate being debated. He did not attend for health reasons, his lawyer said.

Lawyers for Assange argued yesterday that the US provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances the WikiLeaks founder would have free press protections if extradited to the US.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said prosecutors had failed to guarantee that Assange, who is an Australian citizen and claims protections as a journalist for publishing US classified information, could rely on press protections of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

“The real issue is whether an adequate assurance has been provided to remove the real risk identified by the court,” Fitzgerald said. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance has been made.”

American prosecutors allege that Assange encouraged and helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published. Assange’s lawyers have argued he was a journalist who exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the US, they said, would expose him to a politically motivated prosecution and risk a “flagrant denial of justice”.

The US government said Assange’s actions went way beyond those of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

In March, the two High Court judges rejected the bulk of Assange’s arguments but said he could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the US guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech protections as a US citizen.

Protesters hold placards outside the High Court in London, England. PHOTO: AP