There is great relevance in whether or not the US are actively planning to extradite Julian Assange- this is the key aspect to his appeal against extradition to Sweden and a key element in the decision of Ecuador to grant Assange asylum. In this respect, the resolution of the Swedish case against Assange pivots around the existence (or otherwise) of an extradition request from the US. Why does the UK Secretary of State maintain a position of silence on this matter and why is this important?
For over 5 months Julian Assange has been resident at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, caught between a successful asylum plea and the refusal of the UK to grant him safe passage. The EAW issued nearly two years ago in order to have Julian Assange extradited to Sweden has been fought by Assange’s legal team who assert fears that this case is inextricably bound with the work of WikiLeaks. In order to mitigate the potential political consequences of extradition to Sweden, Assange’s defence team have requested assurances that there would be no further extradition to the US should Assange return to Sweden to answer to the allegations that have been made against him.
The US have often claimed that they have ‘no interest’ in Julian Assange and argue that his defence team is employing this rhetoric in order to delay facing the complaints made against him in Sweden. However, despite this denial of interest the US acknowledge the fact that a grand jury has been meeting in respect to WikiLeaks for at least 2 years and many US state officials have linked Assange’s work to terrorism. Julian Assange is not alone in thinking that this indicates a possibility that the US is aiming to extradite him for offences relating to his work with WikiLeaks- the Australian government have recently been preparing for this possibility also. We cannot consider a case against WikiLeaks without acknowledging the role of Julian Assange and it is clear also that we cannot consider a case against Assange without acknowledging the role of WikiLeaks. Understanding this case in its wider context will not leave Assange unaccountable to the complaints made against him; indeed Assange’s team have stated that he wishes to answer to the complaints but to able to do so with some protection against the political agitation surrounding his work.
The UK are in a unique position to confirm whether or not such protection would be necessary. As Mr Assange was resident in the UK at the time the EAW was issued, any state intending to further extradite him from Sweden to another country must first receive the consent from the UK Secretary of State. The 2003 UK Extradition Act obliges the Secretary of State to ensure that individuals are granted notice if an extradition request that involves them has been issued- this obligation is set out under section 58 of the Act. However, there is also scope within this Act for the Secretary of State to waiver this obligation- a provision that is not clearly defined in terms of its implementation. A letter from Mark Harper MP, the UK minister for immigration, to a UK citizen regarding the Assange case states:
For reasons that are not stated within the act, the Secretary of State can consent to or deny the further extradition of an individual and not inform that individual of the fact. There is, then, the potential within UK legislation for Julian Assange to be correct in his fears that there is a wider case against him. Calls for the Secretary of State to issues assurances that there will be no further extradition are a response to this potentiality and therefore such assurances could be a practical way of ensuring the resolution of the Swedish case.
So why does the UK remain silent in offering these assurances? Mark Harper MP continues:
Assange is denied the assurances he claims would enable him to return to Sweden to answer the allegations made against him based on a policy (that does not exist in any written form) which aims to prevent him from ‘evading justice’.
Even those most resolute in their opinion that Julian Assange is a criminal will note the irony.
The case against Assange has continued for two years. Beyond the implications that this has had for the freedom of Assange, the ability for WikiLeaks to function in full capacity, the financial burden on the UK for detaining Assange under house arrest and, subsequently, stationing police outside the Embassy of Ecuador, beyond all this are the rights of the two women who brought initial complaints to the police authorities in Sweden to a swift resolution. The silence of Theresa May in this matter is not serving any logical purpose, indeed her decision in this respect is a key delay in the case.
It is a curious position to take.
You can make enquiries to your local MP as to why the UK is maintaining a silence on the existence of a US extradition request. You can ask how this refusal helps to prevent Assange from ‘evading justice’. You can ask why the Secretary of State will not shift from this position when it is clear that doing so would pave the way for Julian Assange to answer to the complaints made against him.