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British High Court judges ruled that Julian Assange may appeal an extradition order to the U.S. on espionage charges for publishing classified U.S. military documents. Assange faces 17 counts under the Espionage Act for his role in releasing information that detailed alleged war crimes. If extradited, he could face up to 175 years in an American maximum-security prison. Assange’s family and legal team have praised the ruling as a victory for freedom of speech, allowing him to make a full appeal before the British court and moving him one step closer to freedom.

Assange has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019 after being removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy. He had sought asylum at the embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to the U.S. over alleged sexual assault charges in Sweden. A U.K. district court judge initially rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 citing concerns regarding Assange’s mental health and likelihood of suicide under harsh U.S. prison conditions. However, higher courts later overturned this decision after receiving assurances from the U.S. regarding Assange’s treatment.

The U.S. has assured the British court that Assange will not face the death penalty and will be allowed to present a First Amendment defense in a U.S. courtroom. However, Assange’s lawyers argue that these assurances are inadequate and that the U.S. has refused to agree not to challenge his right to use the First Amendment defense. The court ruled that Assange could appeal on two grounds related to the First Amendment, emphasizing the importance of free speech and media protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The decision to allow Assange to appeal on freedom of expression and First Amendment grounds has been seen as an important milestone in his case. Many press freedom groups have condemned Assange’s prosecution, warning that it sets a dangerous precedent that could criminalize journalism. The legal battle over Assange’s extradition has drawn international attention, with Australian lawmakers and press freedom advocates calling on the U.S. to drop the charges against him. The court’s ruling has raised hopes for Assange’s potential release and return to his family.

President Obama’s administration had opted not to indict Assange in 2013 over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified cables, citing concerns about the implications for journalism. The Trump and Biden administrations, however, have continued to pursue Assange’s prosecution, leading to a prolonged legal battle. As Assange’s appeals progress and new grounds for challenging his extradition emerge, the future of his case remains uncertain. The ongoing debate over press freedom, national security, and the rights of whistleblowers continues to shape the outcome of the Assange extradition saga.

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