Julian Assange victory for press freedom after court rejects extradition bid

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A British court has upheld a ruling by its appeal court which stopped the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, prompting him to warn that the balance between freedom of expression and extradition is being eroded.

The press gallery packed into the Royal Courts of Justice for the judgment heard that Lady Justice Macur, the court of appeal president, said there was “good reason” to think the earlier ruling by a lower court was wrong.

Assange and his legal team, who have faced increasing pressure in the face of an extradition decision they say is excessive, have long argued that the extradition process is being used to undermine his right to freedom of expression and thus his right to a fair trial.

After the judgment, Assange said he was relieved and pleased with the decision. But he warned he did not know what would now happen and doubted that the government would drop the extradition appeal.

“I have been in limbo for so long I don’t know if this is the end,” he said. “I don’t know if this will provide some kind of remedy for what is happening. This whole thing is being run out of the Department of Justice. This could very well be very much more about losing a case than winning it. This government continues to move in a direction that erodes everything I believe in,” he added.

The first verdict by the appeal court in January 2018, annulled a previous judgment by the lower court, which said that Assange would be extradited.

“The [appeal court] judge decided that was wrong,” Lady Justice Macur said, referring to her predecessor at the initial appeal court hearing, David Newlove.

Assange, who has always denied the allegations against him, left the court flanked by his lawyers and a large entourage of supporters who hooted encouragement from a balcony.

Lady Justice Macur, of the appeal court, told the Guardian that there was a third judge’s reference in the new ruling, which should have been enough to see the case go to a full hearing.

The judge also referenced the arguments on freedom of expression. “I am one of those who cannot in all conscience believe that this appeal should proceed. I’m not saying that [Assange] did it, he didn’t, he did, he didn’t,” she said.

“There’s also nothing about the criminality of the crime that was alleged in this case, which is the bulk of it,” she said. “It was a tenuous case,” she added.

Lady Justice Macur said a lower court judge had used irrelevant evidence, and she predicted that this would be the outcome of all of these cases. “I do not believe that the judges will accept the proposition that the rules should be changed to accommodate unfettered pursuit of his [Assange’s] cause,” she said.

Though serious allegations have been made against Assange, he has always said he has nothing to hide.

Lady Justice Macur said: “It is the obligation of the secretary of state, if in my judgment he is not a criminal, to go into this case and tell the man that. It will be in his interest to listen to him, because he has no interest whatever in having me rule for him here today.”

The three-judge panel also found there was a bad reason for the lower court judge to say Assange would never be able to receive a fair trial if he went to Sweden.

Assange had presented evidence and expert witnesses and asked the appeal court to assess the fairness of the trial process in Sweden, rather than have the government decide on its basis.

Lady Justice Macur said the lower court judge had not explained how that was relevant to a determination of the fairness of a trial in Sweden.

The case will now return to Westminster magistrates court for sentencing, which is normally followed by a further appeal to the court of appeal, at which point Newlove’s decision will have to be set aside.

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