US Prosecutors waiting to get their hands on Julian Assange will have to wait a little longer following the decision of the High Court yesterday.

Whilst the decision of the judges, Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Johnson, was far short of ideal, it demanded that the US provide assurances over Mr Assange’s welfare before extradition could proceed. This is somewhat ironic coming from a British justice system that has allowed a great journalistic mind to be broken by a decade-long imprisonment without ever being convicted of a crime.

The judges have given the American Justice Department a further 3 weeks to provide written assurances that Mr Assange’s rights under the First Amendment will be protected, should he be extradited. These provide for a legal defence of ‘freedom of expression’. The case is likely to be concluded by the end of May.

Speaking outside the court following the latest ruling, Stella Assange said: “Julian has been flagrantly denied his freedom of expression rights.” She went on to say: “He is being discriminated against on the basis of his nationality – an Australian.” She further commented that “he remains exposed to the death penalty.”

The judges had earlier dismissed nearly all his grounds for appeal and had, instead, placed the emphasis on the American Justice Department to provide assurances that he would be treated fairly. Mrs Assange described the outcome as “astounding”: “What the courts have done is to invite a political intervention from the United States to send a letter to say it’s all okay.”

After five years of this case, which have taken a heavy toll on Julian’s physical and mental well-being, Stella Assange characterised the case as “an attack on press freedom, an attack on Julian’s life.”

The court has ruled out of admission the evidence compiled by his defence team of a plot by the USA to have Julian Assange assassinated. 

If convicted, Julian Assange could face up to 175 years in jail. In other words, he would spend the rest of his life in a maximum security US prison.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department is seriously considering the option of offering Julian Assange the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge of mishandling classified information. This would, of course, mean accepting that he had done something wrong, but could result in his release from jail without the need for extradition and another long legal battle.

Given the state of Julian’s health, anything that could result in him being released must be seen as a positive development. For now the ball is very much in the US Justice Department’s court and whilst, in theory, they could simply refuse to provide the required assurances, the likelihood is that they will do so, even if at a later date they turn out to be worthless.

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