WASHINGTON, Feb 12, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – The administration of US
President Joe Biden has appealed a British judge’s ruling against the
extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a Justice Department
official said Friday.
The appeal made clear Biden’s intention to have Assange stand trial
on espionage and hacking-related charges over WikiLeaks’ publication
of hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents
beginning in 2009.
The Justice Department had until Friday to file an appeal of Judge
Vanessa Baraitser’s January 4 ruling that Assange suffered mental
health problems that would raise the risk of suicide if he were sent
to the United States for trial.
“Yes, we filed an appeal and we are continuing to pursue
extradition,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi told AFP.
Biden had been pressured by rights groups to drop the case, which
raises sensitive transparency and media freedom issues.
After WikiLeaks began publishing US secrets in 2009, the
then-administration of president Barack Obama — in which Biden was
vice president — declined to pursue the case.
Assange said WikiLeaks was no different than other media
constitutionally protected to publish such materials.
Prosecuting him, too, could mean also prosecuting powerful US news
organizations for publishing similar material — legal fights the
government would likely lose.
But under president Donald Trump, whose 2016 election was helped by
WikiLeaks publishing Russian-stolen materials damaging to his rival
Hillary Clinton — the Justice Department built a national security
case against Assange.
In 2019 the native Australian was charged under the US Espionage
Act and computer crimes laws with multiple counts of conspiring with
and directing others, from 2009 to 2019, to illegally obtain and
release US secrets.
In doing so he aided and abetted hacking, illegally exposed
confidential US sources to danger and used the information to damage
the United States, according to the charges.
If convicted on all counts, Assange, 49, could face a prison
sentence of 175 years.
“Julian Assange is no journalist,” said Assistant Attorney General
John Demers at the time.
Assange has remained under detention by British authorities pending
Earlier this week 24 organizations, including Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International USA and Reporters Without Borders, urged Biden
to drop the case.
“Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with
sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and
publish documents the government considers secret,” they said in an
“In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively
criminalize these common journalistic practices.”