U.K. court: Ruling on Assange to take time

A protester stands outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A protester stands outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won't find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange's lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a "flagrant denial of justice."

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange's lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal -- his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange's future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition -- though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website's publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and "created a grave and imminent risk" by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents -- risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was "going a very considerable way beyond" a journalist gathering information.

Assange was "not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information," she said. "The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks."

Assange's supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won't get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange's lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks' "exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale," including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is "a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice" if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was "not in good condition."

Assange's family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Information for this article was contributed by Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney of The Associated Press.

  photo  John Shipton father of Julian Assange leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 
  photo  Stella Assange, wife of Julian Assange, arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
 
 
  photo  Protesters stand with umbrellas at the Royal Courts of Justice entrance in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
 
 
  photo  A protester holds a poster at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
 
 
  photo  Stella Assange, wife of Julian Assange, starts a march to Downing Street with protesters at the end of a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. The 52-year-old WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 
  photo  Protesters stand outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 
  photo  Protesters shout outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 
  photo  Stella Assange, wife of Julian Assange, arrives with Assange's brother Gabriel Shipton at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 
  photo  A protester holds a placard outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Julian Assange's lawyers are on their final U.K. legal challenge to stop the WikiLeaks founder from being sent to the United States to face spying charges. The 52-year-old has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the last five years in a high-security prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
 
 

Upcoming Events