Is Julian Assange's 12 years of 'detention' about to end?

Judges could end his legal battle to avoid extradition from the UK

Stella Assange with a poster of her husband Julian. Getty Images
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After five years in a high-security prison, preceded by seven years holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London, Julian Assange could learn on Monday if he is to finally be extradited to the US.

He faces charges in connection with WikiLeaks' publication of hundreds of thousands of files relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The High Court in London will reveal whether it has accepted assurances from the US that will pave the way for Mr Assange, 52, to face charges, nearly all of them under the Espionage Act.

If the judges decide he can be extradited, it will mark the end of his 12-year legal battle in the English courts, though he can still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

In March, two High Court judges extended the saga, saying they would grant the Australian a new appeal unless given assurances, including that he will not face the death penalty.

The US was also asked to confirm that he can use in his defence the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects free speech, and that his trial and sentencing will not be prejudiced by his Australian nationality.

The WikiLeaks founder fled to the Ecuador embassy in 2012 while he was facing extradition to Sweden, where he was being investigated after a rape allegation was made against him two years earlier.

He has been battling extradition to the US since 2019 and is currently being held in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison in London.

Speaking ahead of the verdict, Mr Assange's wife Stella said: “It's important to have in mind that this has gone on for over five years and Julian has been in the UK's most notorious prison for this entire time”.

“In fact, every day since the December 7, 2010, he has been in one form of detention or another.”

She claimed the legal process has been skewed in favour of the US, where officials have been “given endless chances to change their case, in order to get Julian extradited to face 175 years [in prison] for publishing evidence of US war crimes”.

“So I don't expect a rational outcome from the courts, I'm afraid to say,” she said.

“Do I hold some hope that they will do the right thing and Julian win in the end? Of course ... I hope it will. But I've observed what has happened over the past five years.”

Julian Assange through the years - in pictures

Mrs Assange said if he is extradited, she will “follow him wherever he goes” and “do whatever I can, and our family is going to fight for him until he's free”.

She added: “Julian misses Australia and we’re very keen to travel to Australia with the kids and for him to show his home country to our children.”

Over the years Mr Assange has been a magnet for celebrities as he became the focus of a fierce worldwide campaign promoting free speech and holding the US and its allies accountable for their actions.

During his time in the embassy he was visited by celebrities such as Pamela Anderson and Lady Gaga, while socialite Jemima Khan was at the forefront of donating millions of pounds for his legal fees.

But the Ecuadorians began to tire of the circus surrounding him as he held forth to supporters from a balcony and they spent $66,000 a month on his security.

He was dragged from the embassy by police officers after his seven-year asylum was revoked and taken to Belmarsh, where he has been detained since.

Mr Assange drew the world's attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks published about 750,000 classified US documents and diplomatic cables, which exposed possible war crimes, torture and secret military operations, as well as unveiling the often unseemly behind-the-scenes activities of US diplomacy.

US military intelligence officer Chelsea Manning was arrested and sentenced to prison for handing over the files to WikiLeaks.

The Americans allege that Mr Assange directed and abetted Manning in stealing the files, when he tried to help her break a passcode to a Pentagon computer system.

The High Court initially blocked his extradition but then reversed the decision on appeal in 2021 after the US vowed not to imprison him in its most extreme jail, ADX Florence.

It also pledged not to subject him to the harsh regime known as “Special Administrative Measures”.

In March 2022, the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal, arguing Mr Assange had failed to “raise an arguable point of law” and former home secretary Priti Patel formally signed off on his extradition.

But while Monday’s decision could mark the end of his legal fight in the UK, his legal team has indicated it will appeal to European courts and will be given 14 days to do so.

There could yet be further twists in the legal saga.

Updated: May 19, 2024, 5:58 AM