US must prove Julian Assange won’t face the death penalty, UK court rules

The Australian is accused of publishing thousands of classified US military documents.
julian assange death penalty

A UK court has given US authorities three weeks to guarantee Julian Assange won’t face the death penalty if he is tried in an American court.

It means Assange could still avoid extradition on spying charges, but an appeal hearing is not yet certain.

The Australian is accused of publishing thousands of classified US military documents.

Here’s the latest.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange was born in Queensland in 1971. He worked as a computer programmer before setting up the website ‘WikiLeaks’ in 2006.

WikiLeaks was designed to share censored materials involving “war, spying and corruption” with the public. It claims to have published more than 10 million documents.

It was launched during the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


In 2010, WikiLeaks posted thousands of classified documents relating to the U.S.’ wars in the Middle East.

The leaks included claims U.S. armed forces were responsible for an estimated 15,000 unreported civilian deaths. The documents also revealed secret diplomatic dealings between the U.S. Government and foreign leaders.

Former U.S. Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning was found responsible for handing the information to WikiLeaks. Manning served jail time over her role in these leaks.

UK arrest

In 2012, Ecuador’s embassy in the UK provided Assange with political asylum (protection) which meant he couldn’t be extradited to the U.S. if spying charges were brought against him.

While he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy, the U.S. started forming a legal case against Assange, alleging his actions threatened its national security.

Ecuador’s embassy removed Assange’s protection in April 2019. London police arrested Assange as soon as he stepped out of the embassy. He’s been detained in a UK high-security prison ever since.


Since it announced charges against Assange, the U.S. has requested UK authorities facilitate his extradition — meaning he would be forcibly deported from the UK to the US to face trial.

Assange could face a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison if a US court finds him guilty of all 18 charges.

In 2021, a UK court rejected the US extradition request. The judge argued sending Assange to the US would pose a significant mental health risk. However, the UK Government reversed the court’s decision in 2022. Assange appealed this ruling.

UK High Court

Last month, Assange’s lawyers launched what was widely considered a final chance to appeal his extradition to the US.

During two days of hearings, one of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald, told the court Assange could expect a “flagrant denial of justice” if he was forced to face trial in the US.

On Tuesday, London’s High Court announced it was delaying its decision to grant Assange’s appeal. The court ruled it needed more information about what could happen to Assange, if he’s made to face trial in the US.


The court did not hand down a firm ruling granting or denying Assange’s appeal. Instead, it’s asked the US to provide “satisfactory assurances” he would face a fair trial and that, if found guilty, Julian Assange would not receive the death penalty.

If American authorities cannot guarantee Assange’s safety, the court will hear his appeal in a full hearing.

The case is adjourned until 20 May. In the meantime, Assange will remain in the high-security UK prison where he has been since 2019.


Supporters gathered outside the court, chanting: “Free Julian Assange.”

His wife, Stella Assange, described the decision as “astounding”.

Speaking outside court, she said: “The courts recognise that Julian is exposed to a flagrant denial of his freedom of expression rights… and remains exposed to the death penalty.”

She called on U.S. President Joe Biden to drop the case against her husband.

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