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EXCLUSIVE: Assange's father John Shipton on UK High Court ruling

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Julian Assange's father, John Shipton (Screenshot via YouTube / Backdrop by Herder3 via Wikimedia Commons)

Julian Assange's father John Shipton speaks with Dr John Jiggens on the UK High Court ruling allowing Assange to continue to appeal against U.S. extradition.

JOHN SHIPTON had been in London, attending his son Julian Assange's appeal against extradition to the United States.

The UK High Court has granted Assange’s defence three grounds for a final appeal against extradition to the USA where Assange would face prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act.

The first ground was that Assange could be exposed to the death penalty in the United States and the U.S. hadn't given any assurances that it wouldn’t seek the death penalty.

The other two grounds of appeal dealt with the fact that as an Australian citizen, Assange would be unable to get the benefit of free speech entitlements in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This proved to be the trickiest for the U.S. and the thrust of the argument in the appeal was largely concerned with this.

Although the U.S. prosecutor argued that Assange could seek to rely on First Amendment protections, the U.S. Government couldn’t guarantee this because of the separation of powers between the executive and the courts.

His defence argued that there was a clear line of case law in the United States, which showed precisely that as a foreign citizen you do not benefit from constitutional protections, including First Amendment rights. In this battle, Assange’s lawyers prevailed and Assange was granted leave to appeal against his extradition to the U.S. before the UK High Court.

JOHN SHIPTON: The decision was good news for us. In the Court, there were two U.S. marshals. There was also a car with U.S. marshals in it. If the decision had gone the other way, Julian would be taken and put on a plane to the United States. So for us, it was a moment of joy and relief.

In the Court hearing, it was extraordinary to see the United States representative prosecutor trying to suck a golf ball up a garden hose. The allusion is to the effort that he was putting in for the impossibility of justifying an assurance that the United States would allow Julian to apply for the protection of the First Amendment free speech legislation in the United States.

In Europe and the UK, Article 10 of the European Human Rights Act protects free speech, so Julian found benefit from that. The appeal hearing can deliver itself to judge whether Julian would be able to receive the benefits of Article 10 legislation in the United States if he was extradited. The defence quoted judgements of the U.S. Supreme Court that denied First Amendment protection for non-nationals.

JOHN JIGGENS: Stella, Julian's wife, tweeted she was very relieved with the decision and you were too, obviously, but this is not the end of the matter. The U.S. was granted another chance to give these assurances and you'll be back in Court again.

SHIPTON: Well, maybe, there may be further hearings. The speculation is that the United States Department of Justice doesn't want a hearing in the United States over a First Amendment matter before the Election. That's what people say. From my point of view, and I say this with all the firmness I can possibly gather, since the involvement of the Australian Government in the matter of Julian Assange's prosecution and persecution, it's become a state-to-state matter.

State-to-state relationships, particularly between friendly states or associated states like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and the involvement of Australia in AUKUS, the matter has changed its character and complexity altogether.

The demeanour of the Court, in the last two hearings since the Australian Government made its concerns known has completely changed, and the good manners and provision of seeing and careful consideration of Julian's lawyers and supporters is altogether different — fundamentally different. So we all must keep firmly in mind that it's the supporters generating an upwelling of enthusiasm for Julian's fair treatment that has brought into being a political circumstance that the Australian Government has to address.

JIGGENS: It's been quite a burden on you, your family and Julian. How much does it cost, for example, just to have all these court appeals, that you've had to sit through?

SHIPTON: I don't know. Many, many tens of millions. There's an article written by Declan Hayes some time ago, which estimated that the supporters worldwide since 2016 have spent about $100 million on Julian's defence. For us, you know, we just spend everything. I mean, you know, the houses go, savings are gone, and we exist, politically and financially, on the support of our supporters. We rest upon the shoulders of the supporters worldwide and, in particular, in Australia.

I’ve got to say that so firmly: without the support of the Australian people, the Parliament and the Government, and the delegations that travelled to the United States, Julian would have been extradited to the United States and Australia's sovereignty would have suffered a severe blow.

JIGGENS: Jen Robinson refers to this process as "torture".

SHIPTON: They use the phrase punishment by process and, of course, the process is the legal process. That just goes on and on for now — nearly 15 years. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, he goes at it even firmer and harder – which I agree with – and he says that it's "psychological torture" — constant smearing, never knowing where things are going to end, never knowing where the next court case is going to happen, never knowing if you've got enough money to pay the lawyers and so on.

In that sense, it's sadistic, and I feel after so many years, it's obvious to many people that that sadism and maliciousness is on behalf of the United Kingdom Crown Prosecuting Service and the Department of Justice in the United States. That malicious sadism can only be consciously deliberate by the bureaucrats that inhabit those institutions.

JIGGENS: Is there anything you would like to add?

SHIPTON: Well, just my gratitude: particularly in the Northern Rivers. You know they've been a rock upon which we had rested in this fight for Julian's freedom. I mean, they're magnificent. What can you say? They’ve been magnificent.

A BIG WIN FOR ASSANGE

Independent Federal Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, co-chair of the Assange Parliamentary Group, has called the decision a big win for Assange:

It’s wonderful news that Julian Assange has been granted permission to appeal his extradition to the United States. Mr Assange’s case will now go to the Court of Appeal, where I hope for success so he can be reunited with his family and allowed to return to Australia.

 

Mind you it never should have come to this because Mr Assange should never have been charged for Wikileaks’ astonishing revelations of egregious United States misconduct, including war crimes. Mr Assange is an award-winning Australian journalist who is being dragged through the mud by the U.S. for simply doing his job and telling the truth. The man should be lauded as a hero, not rotting away in a cell.

 

The Court’s decision also gives the Australian and U.S. governments, and indeed Mr Assange and the U.S. Department of Justice, more time to negotiate to have the charges dropped or at least a deal to be struck.

 

In any case this matter has gone on for far too long and millions of people around the world are saying enough is enough. Indeed the majority of the Australian Parliament, including the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, voted in favour of my motion calling on the UK and U.S. Governments to bring this to an end and to let Julian return to Australia.

Despite the defence team's win, Julian Assange remains detained in the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London.

It is Assange's sixth year in Belmarsh, although he has never been convicted of any crime.

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist, currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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