Assange wins temporary reprieve from extradition to US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to the United States from the United Kingdom has been put on hold after London's High Court said the US must provide assurances he will not face the death penalty.

Two High Court judges said they would grant Assange a new appeal unless US authorities give further assurances within three weeks about what will happen to him.

The ruling means the legal saga, which has dragged on for more than a decade, will continue - and Assange will remain inside London's high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has spent the last five years.

US prosecutors are seeking to put Assange, 52, on trial on 18 counts, all bar one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks' high-profile release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

Assange's lawyers in February sought permission to challenge the UK's approval of his extradition, part of a more than 13-year legal battle in English courts.

In their ruling on Tuesday, two senior judges said he had a real prospect of successfully appealing against extradition on a number of grounds.

The court said in its written ruling that Assange arguably would not be entitled to rely on the first amendment right to free speech as a non-US citizen and that, while none of the existing charges carried the death penalty, he could later be charged with a capital offence such as treason, meaning it would be unlawful to extradite him.

Stella Assange
Stella Assange says the United States should "drop this shameful case" against her husband. (AP PHOTO)

His case was at least arguable, the ruling said, citing "the calls for the imposition of the death penalty by leading politicians and other public figures".

If the US assurances were not forthcoming by April 16, then Assange would be granted permission to appeal, the judgment said.

A further hearing has been scheduled for May 20, meaning his extradition - which his campaign team said could have been imminent depending on the ruling - has been put on hold.

US authorities have promised Assange would not receive capital punishment but the judges said on Tuesday that "nothing in the existing assurance explicitly prevents the imposition of the death penalty".

"Today's decision is astounding," Assange's wife, Stella Assange, said outside the court.

"The (US President Joe) Biden administration should not issue assurances, they should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought."

Although Assange's legal team were successful on some grounds, the court rejected his bid for an appeal on the basis that the case was politically motivated or that he would not receive a fair trial.

Assange's many supporters hail him as an anti-establishment hero who is being persecuted, despite being a journalist, for exposing US wrongdoing and alleged war crimes.

The US says the WikiLeaks' revelations imperilled the lives of their agents and there was no excuse for his criminality.

It has said Assange was charged for "indiscriminately and knowingly" publishing sources' names and not his political opinions.

with AP