UK’s legal process a form of ‘psychological torture’, as Assange battles US

May 23, 2024
JULIAN ASSANGE THE CHALLENGE: DEFENDING JULIAN ASSANGE 2021 de Clara Lopez Rubio et Juan Pancorbo Julian Assange. Prod DB © Inselfil. Image: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

John Shipton has been in London, observing his son Julian Assange’s appeal against extradition to the United States.

The UK High Court had granted Assange’s Defence three grounds of appeal. The first one was that Assange could be exposed to the death penalty in the United States and the US hadn’t given any assurances that they wouldn’t seek the death penalty. The other two grounds of appeal dealt with the fact that as an Australian citizen, Assange would be unable to get the benefit of the free speech entitlements in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. This proved to be the trickiest for the US, and the thrust of the argument in the appeal was largely concerned with this.

Although the US prosecutor argued that Assange could seek to rely on the First Amendment protections, the US government couldn’t guarantee this because of the separation of powers between the executive and the courts. The Defence argued that there was a clear line of case law in the United States, which says precisely that as a foreign citizen you do not benefit from constitutional protections, including First amendment rights, and so Assange was granted leave to appeal against extradition by the UK High Court.

I interviewed John Shipton for BAY FM and asked what he thought of the proceedings, and the High Court’s decision.

JS: The decision was good news for us. In the court, there were two US marshals. There was also a car with US marshals in it. If the decision had gone the other way, Julian would be taken and put on a plane to the United States. So for us it was a moment of joy and relief.

In the court hearing, it was extraordinary to see the United States representative prosecutor trying to suck a golf ball up a garden hose. The allusion is to the effort that he was putting in for the impossibility of justifying an assurance that the United States would allow Julian to apply for the protection of the First Amendment free speech legislation in the United States.

In Europe and the UK, they have a similar clause to the First Amendment of the United States constitution. It’s called Article 10 of the European human rights legislation. It also protects free speech. So Julian found benefit from that. The appeal hearing can deliver itself to judging whether Julian would be able to receive the benefits of Article 10 legislation in the United States if he was extradited. It was also demonstrated that from judgements of the Supreme Court of the United States that he wouldn’t receive that protection.

JJ: Stella, Julian’s wife, tweeted she was very relieved with the decision and you were too obviously, but this is not the end of the matter. The US was granted another chance to give these assurances and you’ll be back in court again.

JS: Well, maybe, there may be further hearings. The speculation is that the United States Department of Justice doesn’t want a hearing in the United States over a First Amendment matter before the election. That’s what people say. From my point of view, and I say this with all the firmness I can possibly gather, that since the involvement of the Australian government in the matter of Julian Assange’s prosecution and persecution, it’s become a state-to-state matter. State-to-state relationships, particularly between friendly states or associated states, like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and the involvement of Australia in AUKUS, the matter has changed its character and complexity altogether.

The demeanour of the court, in the last two hearings since the Australian governments made its concerns known, has completely changed and the good manners and provision of seeing and careful consideration of Julian’s lawyers and supporters is altogether different, fundamentally different. So we all must keep firmly in mind that it’s the supporters generating an upwelling of enthusiasm for Julian’s fair treatment that has brought into being a political circumstance that the Australian government has to address.

JJ: It’s been quite a burden on you, your family, and Julian. How much does it cost, for example, just to have all these court appeals which you’ve had to sit through?

JS: I don’t know many, many tens of millions. There’s an article written by Declan Hayes some time ago which estimated that the supporters worldwide since 2016 have spent about $100 million on Julian’s defense. For us, you know, we just spend everything. I mean, you know, the houses go, savings are gone, and we exist, politically and financially, on the support of our supporters. We rest upon the shoulders of the supporters worldwide, and in particular in Australia. I’ve got to say that so firmly: without the support of the Australian people, and the Parliament and the government, and the delegations that travelled to the United States, Julian would be extradited to the United States and Australia’s sovereignty would have suffered a severe blow.

JJ: Jen Robinson refers to this process as torture.

JS: They use the phrase punishment by process and, of course, the process is the legal process. That’s just goes on and on for now, nearly 15 years. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, he goes out at it even firmer and harder, which I agree with, and he says that it’s psychological torture, constant smearing, never knowing where things are going to end, never knowing where the next court case is going to happen, never knowing if you’ve got enough money to pay the lawyers and so on.

In that sense, it’s sadistic, and I feel after so many years, it’s obvious to many people that that sadism and maliciousness is on behalf of the United Kingdom Crown Prosecuting service and the Department of Justice in the United States. That malicious sadism can only be consciously deliberate by the bureaucrats that inhabit those institutions.

Independent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, the co-chair of the Assange Parliamentary Group called the decision a big win for Assange.

“It’s wonderful news that Julian Assange has been granted permission to appeal his extradition to the United States,” Mr Wilkie said. “Mr Assange’s case will now go to the Court of Appeal, where I hope for success so he can be reunited with his family and allowed to return to Australia.

“Mind you it never should have come to this because Mr Assange should never have been charged for Wikileaks’ astonishing revelations of egregious United States misconduct, including war crimes. Mr Assange is an award-winning Australian journalist who is being dragged through the mud by the US for simply doing his job and telling the truth. The man should be lauded as a hero, not rotting away in a cell.

“The court’s decision also gives the Australian and US governments, and indeed Mr Assange and the US Department of Justice, more time to negotiate to have the charges dropped or at least a deal to be struck.

“In any case this matter has gone on for far too long and millions of people around the world are saying enough is enough. Indeed the majority of the Australian Parliament, including the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, voted in favour of my motion calling on the UK and US Governments to bring this to an end and to let Julian return to Australia.”

Despite the win, Julian Assange remains detained in the high security Belmarsh Prison in London. It is his sixth year in Belmarsh although he has never been convicted of any crime.

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