The Biden Administration will continue to seek the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a Justice Department official said on Tuesday. This means the US will continue to challenge the decision of Vanessa Baraitser, the UK judge who ruled against the extradition, citing the risk of Assange committing suicide if he ends up in a US supermax prison.
“We continue to seek his extradition,” said Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi, according to Reuters. Baraitser made her decision on January 4th, and the US formally appealed the ruling on January 15th. The appeal process could take months, and Assange is still being held in London’s Belmarsh prison.
The Trump Administration indicted Assange on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If extradited, Assange could face up to 175 years in prison for exposing US war crimes.
While Baraitser ultimately ruled against the extradition, she sided with the US prosecution team in her ruling and said the US would be justified to put Assange on trial for espionage. But Assange used standard journalistic practices to obtain the leaks he was indicted for, something many human rights groups, journalist organizations, and UN officials have pointed out.
With the change in US administrations, Assange supporters appealed to President Biden to drop the charges against the WikiLeaks founder. More than 20 organizations sent a letter to Biden’s Justice Department calling for the release of Assange.
“The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely — and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do,” the letter reads. Signatories to the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders.