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  27 Oct 2021, 19:50

US vows no supermax for Assange in renewed extradition bid

  LONDON, Oct 27, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The United States sought to assure a 
British court Wednesday that it would not hold Julian Assange at a supermax 
prison, seeking to overturn a block on his extradition in order to put him on 
trial for espionage.

  The WikiLeaks founder risks up to 175 years in jail if he is sent to the US 
and convicted. But a British judge blocked his extradition on the grounds 
that he was at serious risk of suicide and that his mental health would 
probably deteriorate in the US penal system.

  At the start of a two-day appeal hearing in London, the US government asked 
Britain's High Court to overturn the ruling from January, arguing the judge 
had been "wrong to come to the conclusion she did".

  The initial judgment was partly based on concerns Assange was likely to be 
held in isolation in the US's only federal so-called supermax prison, the ADX 
Florence jail in Colorado.

  James Lewis, lawyer for the US government, told the court that Washington 
had since provided written assurances that Assange would not be held at the 
notorious prison, either pre-trial or afterwards.

  Assange "will receive any such clinical and psychological treatment as is 
recommended" and that he will eventually be eligible to apply for a prisoner 
transfer to his native Australia, Lewis added.

  "There has never been a previous breach of an assurance," he argued.

      Assange's team hit back that the assurances do not rule out altogether the 
chance of him being detained at the facility, at a "comparable" federal 
prison or at a state-level supermax jail.

  The new US pledges provided "no reliable basis" for changing the lower 
court judge's decision, they said in legal filings.

    The two senior judges hearing the appeal at the High Court will deliver 
their own ruling at a later date, but the legal fight is likely to drag on 
for months if not years.

      - 'End this nightmare' -

      Outside the court in central London, Assange's partner Stella Moris -- 
with whom he has two children -- joined two dozen protesters demanding his 
immediate release from London's high-security Belmarsh jail. 

  "I'm very concerned for Julian's health," Moris told reporters. 

     "He is very thin. And I hope that the courts will end this nightmare," she 
said, having visited Assange in prison on Saturday.

     One demonstrator wearing a funereal veil held a banner reading "RIP 
British Justice". Another, 20-year-old Ruby Allen, said Assange was an 
innocent defender of "press freedom". 

  "Extradition is a death sentence basically," she said.

  The US government wants Assange, 50, to face 18 charges relating to 
WikiLeaks' 2010 release by of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of 
military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  He has been indicted for violating the US espionage act and for hacking, 
based on the alleged aid he gave former military intelligence officer Chelsea 
Manning in obtaining the documents from secure computer systems.

  The US government has said that the British judge who ruled in January, 
Vanessa Baraitser, "didn't appreciate the weight" of expert evidence that 
said Assange was not at risk of suicide.

  Baraitser rejected US experts' testimony that Assange would be protected 
from self-harm, noting that others such as disgraced US financier Jeffrey 
Epstein had killed themselves in custody.

      - 'Trump card' -

     On Wednesday, Lewis noted Assange had "no history of serious and enduring 
mental illness" and cautioned against a "crystal ball" approach to what could 
happen if he was extradited.

  He said the earlier ruling focused on the intellectual ability of an 
individual such as Assange to "get around suicide prevention measures".

   

   "That then becomes a trump card that cannot be dealt with by the 
requesting state," the lawyer added.

      Assange was arrested in Britain in 2019 for jumping bail after spending 
seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden 
where he faced allegations of sexual assault. These were later dropped.

  Whatever the High Court decides, further legal wrangling looms. If the US 
appeal is successful, the case will be sent back to a lower court for a new 
decision. 

      Whoever loses can also ask for permission for a further, final appeal to 
the UK's Supreme Court.

      Assange sought, but failed, to obtain a pardon from Biden's predecessor 
Donald Trump, whose 2016 election campaign benefited from WikiLeaks' release 
of materials that damaged his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

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