Julian Assange is “dangerously close” to being extradited to the US after losing his latest legal appeal, his family and observers of his long-running legal challenge say.
His lawyers say they will appeal again to the same court, amid growing fears he could spend the rest of his life in prison for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.
In a three-page judgment handed down on Tuesday, UK high court judge Justice Jonathan Swift rejected all eight grounds of Assange’s appeal against the US’s extradition order, signed by then UK home secretary Priti Patel in June last year.
But Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, said her husband would make a “renewed application for appeal to the high court” next week.
The matter would then be heard before two new judges in a public hearing, Stella Assange said.
“And we remain optimistic that we will prevail and that Julian will not be extradited to the United States where he faces charges that could result in him spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the US government.”
Assange’s father, John Shipton, said his son’s grounds for a further hearing were “clear, firm and just”.
“Julian’s family watch on, horrified, and all fair-minded people the world over watch with profound disquiet and alarm,” he said.
Assange’s appeal argued that Patel, as home secretary, erred in her decision to approve the extradition order because the request violated the US-UK extradition treaty which states “extradition shall not be granted if the offence for which extradition is requested is a political offence”. His legal team has consistently maintained that the US desire to try Assange is politically motivated.
The appeal also argued Assange was being prosecuted for protected speech, and that the extradition request itself was an abuse of process.
Assange’s legal team has also said the US government has consistently misrepresented the core facts of the case to the British courts.
Swift’s rejection of the appeal grounds leaves only one final step in the UK courts: the defence has five working days to submit an appeal of 20 pages to a panel of two judges, who will convene a public hearing.
There are no further appeal avenues at the domestic level. Assange could still fight the extradition at the European court of human rights, which last December confirmed that an application from Assange had been received.
Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, told the Guardian the high court rejection of his appeal was a serious development, “that leaves him dangerously close now to extradition”.
Shipton said the moments of setback were “the toughest” for his brother.
“These times are always very hard for Julian in the prison. He’s obviously focused on this next appeal … but he’s not doing well. This saga’s been going on 13 years and it is taking its toll on his body and on his mind.
“But he still has a fighting spirit, we’re just hoping he makes it through this.”
Shipton said the Australian government’s public statements it was advocating for Assange’s release were insufficient.
“We’ve been hearing this ‘enough is enough’ for over a year, it rings hollow now, these strange platitudes from the government about ‘making representations’. What has that achieved? Nothing has changed, and the Australian government can certainly be doing more.”
Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns with Reporters Sans Frontieres said RSF was deeply concerned by the high court judgment
“It is absurd that a single judge can issue a three-page decision that could land Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life and permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world.
“The historical weight of what happens next cannot be overstated; it is time to put a stop to this relentless targeting of Assange and act instead to protect journalism and press freedom. Our call on President Biden is now more urgent than ever: drop these charges, close the case against Assange, and allow for his release without further delay.”
Assange faces 18 charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents, largely the result of a leak by the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison but released after President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.
If convicted, Assange faces a combined total sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
He has been held, in deteriorating health, in Belmarsh prison for more than four years, as he has contested the US extradition order.