As the official blog of the Home Office confirmed yesterday, the US extradition request for Julian Assange has been certified by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid. However, focusing only on what reported by the main media outlets is not enough in order to clarify the next steps of the process. A clearer vision is only achievable by considering the updated factsheet published by the Ministry and the Extradition Act 2003.
“Mr Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America. He is accused of offences including computer misuse and the unauthorized disclosure of national defence information. We have received the full extradition request, which has been certified by the Home Secretary,” Sajid Javid’s spokeman said. He didn’t spent many other words on the question, justifying this by referring to the fact that the case is now in front of the courts and would be inappropriated to comment further.
The signature of Sajid Javid is actually the first formal step after a full extradition request is received. However, the announcement created confusion and anxiety among Assange’s supporters, since from the moment he was arrested it has been repeatedly mentioned the fact that the Home Secretary should have the last word on the extradition. Therefore, the signature to certify the US request has been mistaken for a sort of “final say”.
The news was reported by a number of media, in some cases with relevant errors. The Guardian initially wrote the US charge against Julian Assange would carry a maximum five-year prison sentence. The mistake was corrected a couple of hours later, when the same article specified that “Assange faces an 18-count indictment, issued by the US Justice Department, that includes charges under the Espionage Act.”
The US will list in details all charges against Wikileaks publisher this morning, when the third extradition hearing will take place at Westminster Magistrates Court.
The extradition requests to the UK from outside the EU are governed by the second part of the Extradition Act 2003 and one of the crucial steps is for the judge to check the existence of possible Statutory bars to extradition. These ones also include health and human rights.
On the Home Office side, according to the Extradition Act 2003, there are four issues that the State Secretary may consider.
The first one is the possibility that the person could face the death penalty in the requesting Country. Secondly, the Home secretary should consider if special arrangements are in place (and ensure in this way that the person is prosecuted only for the specific conduct for whom the extradition is requested). Then he may consider if the person has previously been extradited from another country to the UK (verifying if the consent of that country to his onward extradition is required) or transferred to the UK by the International Criminal Court.
The extradition factsheet also clarifies that the Home secretary may not consider human rights issues and health problems which could make the extradition unjust or oppressive. Actually, the Extradiction Act clarifies that the courts are better placed to make decisions on human rights grounds.
The hope for all the activists defending Julian Assange is that the Court could actually consider the human rights questions in the upcoming hearings, embracing the clear opinion expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, according to whom the Wikileaks founder should be immediately freed, putting to an end also the abusive demonisation campaign carried out by US and UK.
After the news concerning the certification of the extradition request, reactions from individuals and groups protecting Julian Assange appeared on the most popular social media and especially on Twitter and Instagram.
Journalist and BAFTA award-winning documentary film maker John Pilger, staunch advocate of Wikileaks, appeared in a video interview after Sajid Javid signed the extradition order. “Julian Assange has become enemy number one, but he should be hero number one. If we lose Assange and Wikileaks then we lose a whole strata of freedom,” he said. The video was shared and re-tweeted during the day by a huge number of activists.
This morning at 10AM the hearing will confirm which charges have been actually listed in the extradition request. Another extradition hearing will take place at the beginning of July.
Despite the fact that no reassurances have been given by the US regarding the possibility for Assange to face torture in the US prisons and maybe death penalty, the Home Secretary decided to support the US request, as he showed during a BBC Radio interview in the last few days.
Should he order the extradition after the next hearings, Julian Assange would have in any case the right to apply to the High Court for leave to appeal against the decisions of both the District Judge and the Secretary of State. At the moment, this is likely to be the next battle.