London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition

London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a sign, on the day the High Court is set to rule on whether Julian Assange can appeal against extradition from Britain to the United States, in London, Britain, March 26, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition

London court rules WikiLeaks founder Assange can appeal against US extradition
  • Ruling sets the stage for an appeal process likely to further drag out a years-long legal saga

LONDON: A British court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can appeal against an order that he be extradited to the US on espionage charges.

Two High Court judges on Monday said Assange has grounds to challenge the UK government’s extradition order.

The ruling sets the stage for an appeal process likely to further drag out a years-long legal saga. Assange faces 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. The Australian computer expert has spent the last five years in a British high-security prison after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for seven years.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said prosecutors had failed to guarantee that Assange, who is an Australian citizen and claims protections as a journalist for publishing US classified information, could rely on press protections of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

“The real issue is whether an adequate assurance has been provided to remove the real risk identified by the court,” Fitzgerald said. “It is submitted that no adequate assurance has been made.”

The hearing in the High Court in London could end with Assange being sent to the US to face espionage charges, or could provide him another chance to appeal his extradition.

The outcome will depend on how much weight judges give to assurances US officials have provided that Assange’s rights won’t be trampled if he goes on trial.

Assange, 52, has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified US documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange encouraged and helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published.

Assange’s lawyers have argued he was a journalist who exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sending him to the US, they said, would expose him to a politically motivated prosecution and risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

The US government says Assange’s actions went way beyond those of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.

In March, two judges rejected the bulk of Assange’s arguments but said he could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the US guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech protections as a US citizen.

The court said that if Assange couldn’t rely on the First Amendment then it was arguable his extradition would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which also provides free speech and media protections.

The US provided those reassurances, but Assange’s legal team and supporters argue they are not good enough to rely on to send him to the US federal court system because the First Amendment promises fall short. The US said Assange could seek to rely on the amendment but it would be up to a judge to decide whether he could.

Attorney James Lewis, representing the US, said Assange’s conduct was “simply unprotected” by the First Amendment.

“No one, neither US citizens nor foreign citizens, are entitled to rely on the First Amendment in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defense information giving the names of innocent sources, to their grave and imminent risk of harm,” Lewis said.

The WikiLeaks founder, who has spent the past five years in a British prison, was not in court to hear his fate being debated. He did not attend for health reasons, Fitzgerald said.

Commuters emerging from a Tube stop near the courthouse couldn’t miss a large sign bearing Assange’s photo and the words, “Publishing is not a crime. War crimes are.” Scores of supporters gathered outside the neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice chanting “Free Julian Assange” and “Press freedom, Assange freedom.”

Some held a large white banner aimed at President Joe Biden, exhorting: “Let him go Joe.”

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said any sentence would likely be much shorter.

Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, which includes seven years spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London from 2012 until 2019. He has spent the past five years in a British high-security prison.

If Assange prevails Monday, it would set the stage for an appeal process likely to extend what has already been a long legal saga.

If the court accepts the word of the US, it would mark the end of Assange’s legal challenges in the UK, though it’s unclear what would immediately follow.

His legal team is prepared to ask the European Court of Human Rights to intervene. But his supporters fear Assange could be transferred before the court in Strasbourg, France, could halt his removal.

Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson may also postpone issuing a decision.

If Assange loses in court, he still may have another shot at freedom.

Biden said last month that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Assange return to his home country.

Officials provided no other details but Stella Assange said it was “a good sign” and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the comment was encouraging.


Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia
Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia

Ukraine summit paves way for peace talks with Russia
  • Leaders and officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend for summit dedicated to resolving largest European conflict since World War II
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voices hope of garnering international agreement around proposal to end the war that he could present to Moscow

BURGENSTOCK: Dozens of countries meeting for a landmark international summit on peace in Ukraine agreed Sunday that Kyiv should enter dialogue with Russia on ending the war, while strongly supporting Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
More than two years after Russia invaded, leaders and top officials from more than 90 states spent the weekend at a Swiss mountainside resort for a two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.
“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” stated a final communique, supported by the vast majority of the countries that attended the summit at the Burgenstock complex overlooking Lake Lucerne.
The document also reaffirmed a commitment to the “territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine.”
The declaration also urged a full exchange of prisoners of war and the return of deported children.
But not all attendees backed the document, with India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those not included in a list of supporting states displayed on screens at the summit.
After world leaders stood together to offer their support on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky voiced hope of garnering international agreement around a proposal to end the war that he could eventually present to Moscow.
The summit focused Sunday on food security, avoiding a nuclear disaster and returning deported children from Russia as countries outlined building blocks toward ending the war.
The summit, snubbed by Russia and its ally China, came at a point when Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, where it is outmanned and outgunned.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded Kyiv’s effective surrender as a basis for peace talks.
Putin’s call for Ukraine to withdraw from the south and east of the country were widely dismissed at the summit.
But the Kremlin insisted Sunday that Ukraine should “reflect” on Putin’s demands, citing the military situation on the ground.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal.”
Russia on Sunday claimed its troops had captured Zagrine village in southern Ukraine, continuing its progress on the front line.
The Burgenstock talks were framed around areas of common ground between Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan presented in late 2022, and UN resolutions on the war that passed with widespread support.
The tight remit was an attempt to garner the broadest support by sticking firmly to topics covered by international law and the United Nations charter.
Countries split into three working groups on Sunday looking at nuclear safety and security, humanitarian issues, and food security and freedom of navigation on the Black Sea.
The session on humanitarian aspects focused on issues around prisoners of war, civil detainees, internees and the fate of missing persons.
It also discussed the repatriation of children taken from occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia.
Talks on food security examined the slump in agricultural production and exports, which has had a ripple effect across the world as Ukraine was one of the world’s breadbaskets before the war.
Talks looked at not only the destruction of fertile land through military operations but also the ongoing risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance.
Artillery attacks on ships in the Black Sea have driven up the cost of maritime transport.
The nuclear safety group looked at the fragile situation surrounding the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, notably Zaporizhzhia, where all of the reactors have been shut down since mid-April.
Talks honed in on reducing the risk of an accident resulting from a malfunction or an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
“When a just and sustainable peace comes, we will all be there to help Ukraine rebuild,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the final address from invited leaders.
“The people who lost their lives, the families destroyed, they won’t be able to bring them back. That’s the most painful consequence of war: the human suffering.
“This illegal war by Russia needs to end,” he said, while accepting that “it won’t be easy.”
Minds also turned to a potential second summit, at which Ukraine wants to present Russia with an internationally-agreed plan for peace.
Swiss President Viola Amherd said in her closing remarks: “One key question remains: how and when can Russia be included in the process?
“We have heard it in many of your statements: a lasting solution must involve both parties,” she said, while acknowledging that “the road ahead is long and challenging.”
Zelensky did not say whether he was prepared to engage with Putin directly in talks to end the conflict, though he has in the past ruled out direct talks with him.
“Russia should join this process because Russia is responsible for the starting of the process that’s called the war,” Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told reporters.


UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief
Updated 16 June 2024
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UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief
  • Halima Begum criticizes stance of Britain, Western leaders

LONDON: Providing arms to Israel while offering humanitarian aid to Gaza at the same time is “intellectually and morally incoherent,” the head of Oxfam GB has told The Guardian.

The remarks followed Oxfam’s approval to formally intervene in a legal challenge opposing UK arms sales to Israel.

The judicial review is being brought by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the UK-based Global Legal Action Network.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the majority being women and children, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.

Recent government data shows that the UK issued 108 arms export licenses to Israel between the Oct. 7 attacks and May 31, without rejecting or revoking any during this period.

Halima Begum, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, who recently returned from Israel and the occupied West Bank, criticized the UK’s stance.

She told The Guardian: “Whether you say they are components or whole weapons (being sold) is a moot point, because individual components collectively constitute these devices that are killing so many innocent people.

“The UK needs to stop selling these arms. The government can’t simultaneously give humanitarian aid and talk about its aspirations for peace in the region, then also ship bombs — it’s intellectually and morally incoherent.

“That the law doesn’t prevent the trade seems immaterial. If you knowingly sell weapons that are being used to kill thousands of innocent children and their parents, why would you continue?”

While Begum was unable to enter Gaza due to Israel’s attack on Rafah, she said she was left “shell-shocked” after hearing firsthand accounts of the humanitarian crisis from Palestinian colleagues evacuated from the enclave.

She highlighted historical precedents for the UK and US refusing to arm Israel, noting decisions in 1982 and 2002.

Begum said: “Margaret Thatcher halted weapons exports to Israel during the Lebanon War. Ronald Reagan suspended shipments of cluster munitions in July 1982 and he was reportedly so shocked by images of dismembered Palestinian children in a bombardment on Aug. 12 that he warned Israeli PM Menachem Begin ‘our entire future relations are at stake if this continues.’

“Israel ordered a complete ceasefire before the day was out. So, it wouldn’t be the first time a British or US government has drawn a moral line.”

She added: “Gazan children are being bombed, suffering from malnutrition and facing potential famine and the UK still can’t constrain the Israeli military. It defies belief we’d support this action; our humanity seems to be seeping away.”

Begum also noted that the Global South was largely unified on the need for action regarding Gaza and that it appeared to be “only Western leaders that don’t see what is morally the right thing to do.”

She added: “If you have a friend and their behavior is atrocious, you’re still able to say, ‘Look, as friends, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ That doesn’t mean you can’t offer your support to a friend.

“I feel as though that whole construction around Israel’s right to self-defense, every country has a right to defend themselves, but not at the cost of humanitarian law being ripped up in shreds, without any reference to human rights on the ground.”

The UK government declined to comment.
 


Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran
Updated 16 June 2024
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Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran
  • “I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said

STOCKHOLM: Swedish citizen Johan Floderus said he was in seventh heaven following his release from an Iranian prison on Saturday, in a recording published on the Swedish government’s website on Sunday.
Sweden and Iran carried out a prisoner exchange on Saturday with Sweden freeing a former Iranian official convicted for his role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, while Iran released two Swedes being held there.
“I’m in the sky but emotionally I’m in seventh heaven. I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said in a recording of a telephone call between him and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson while he was on the flight back to Sweden.
Floderus, a European Union employee, was arrested in Iran in 2022 and charged with spying for Israel and “corruption on earth,” a crime that carries the death penalty.
He said he had dreamt of the day of his release endless times. “Only to later wake up on that damn concrete floor,” he said. “Now it is starting to sink in that I have left Iranian airspace and I am on my way back home again.”
In a radio interview earlier on Sunday, Kristersson dismissed criticism from the wife of Swedish-Iranian dual national, Ahmadreza Djalali, who remains in an Iranian jail after Tehran refused to include him in the exchange.
“I have a lot of respect for her disappointment, but don’t really understand the criticism. The alternative would have been to leave the two Swedes who could now come home,” he told Swedish radio.


Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election
Updated 16 June 2024
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Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election
  • Party is targeting 13 typically pro-Labour seats with Muslim populations greater than a fifth of the total
  • Labour is concerned its record on Gaza might cost it support ahead of polling day, despite 63% planning to back it on July 4

LONDON: The Labour Party is increasing its campaigning in areas where it fears losing votes over its stance on the war in Gaza ahead of the upcoming UK general election on July 4.

The party has identified 13 typically pro-Labour constituencies in areas with large Muslim populations where it is directing activists to focus their activities.

Labour is set to win a vast majority at the election, but losing such seats could prove an embarrassment for leader Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour website identifies the 13 target constituencies with Muslim populations greater than 20 percent of the total on a larger list of 28 seats for people registering to canvass for the party ahead of the election. They include seats in the typical Labour strongholds of Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.

The party has already suffered at the hands of voters disgruntled by Sir Keir’s approach to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, losing the Rochdale by-election to former Labour MP George Galloway.

Nationwide local elections in May also saw a lower-than-expected turnout in some areas, with Muslim voters in particular avoiding voting for the party where they might once have been expected to after Sir Keir proved reluctant to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and even suggested Israel “has the right” to cut off electricity and water supplies to the enclave.

Sir Keir later clarified he meant Israel had a “right to self-defense” and Labour has subsequently backed calls for a ceasefire, but some within the party fear significant damage has been done to its reputation with British Muslim voters.

The party is still expected to perform well overall with the Muslim community, with recent polling by Savanta suggesting 63 percent plan to vote Labour on July 4, many citing healthcare and the economy as more pressing concerns than Gaza. Around 20 percent of Muslim voters cited the war as their main electoral concern.

However, over 40 percent placed Gaza in their top five ranking of issues most important to them, with 86 percent of those also saying they would consider voting for an independent candidate running on a pro-Palestine platform.

The organization Muslim Vote has published a list of alternative candidates running on similar platforms, including calling for a ceasefire, sanctions on Israel and demanding more action on Islamophobia.

The director of the British Future think tank, Sunder Katwala, told the Observer: “I think it makes sense for (Labour) to worry, and to be seen to worry, and to be putting energy into (Muslim communities). Across the whole of British society, this is the demographic group where it’s most likely that Labour might slip backwards in support, not gain in support.

“The evidence in the local elections was of a surprisingly big impact. And the evidence in the national polling is of a surprisingly small impact. And that might be because voters are thinking strategically about the use of different elections.”

He added: “The Labour party is losing votes among Muslims and not any other group but is probably more popular among Muslims than any other section of the electorate.

“I think the (Muslim) student (activist) group is deserting Labour, and their mums and dads and grandparents are probably sticking with Labour much more.”


Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines
Updated 16 June 2024
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Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines
  • Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the majority Catholic population
  • President Marcos declared June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha

MANILA: Filipino Muslims across the country gathered on Sunday for Eid Al-Adha prayers to mark the Feast of Sacrifice.

There are some 12 million Muslims among the nearly 120 million, predominantly Catholic population, according to data from the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos collected in 2024.

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in Manila, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared Monday, June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha, the second of the two main holidays observed in Islam.

In the Philippine capital region, thousands of Muslims braved the rain for Eid prayers, gathering at the Quezon Memorial Circle for a communal prayer that began early in the morning.

“It rained as early as 5 a.m. First it was just drizzles, then there was a downpour, and then the rain stopped. Good thing that we were able to perform the prayer before it rained again,” Nords Maguindanao, a Muslim resident of Quezon city, told Arab News.

“There were thousands who came to celebrate Eid Al-Adha. The heavy rain did not stop us from congregating … Today we literally had to endure the rain, sacrifice our time and patience. The bad weather was really a test of patience. But overall what is important is that families are united on Eid.”

Maguindanao, who was with his wife and children, has attended the gatherings at Quezon Memorial Circle for years. It is one of the major venues for Eid celebrations in the area, the other being the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“The unity of Muslims in Quezon City was shown through this Eid prayer because of the overwhelming attendance of the city’s Muslim constituents,” he said.

Ali Macabalang, a local journalist from Kidapawan City in the country’s south, told Arab News that he gathered with hundreds of other Muslims at a small park to celebrate Eid this year.

“Eid Al-Adha for me is the very moment of performing or seeking atonement and renewal of connections to the Almighty Creator,” Macabalang said.

“After the prayer, the Imam delivered a sermon reminding Muslims of their duties not only to God but to the community, then to themselves. After that, families partake of the food, which is the basic component of every celebration.”

Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, and also marks the culmination of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

In Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, local authorities celebrated the holiday with reflections on their struggles over the years.

Bangsamoro, the only Muslim-majority territory in the Philippines covering central Mindanao, was until 2014 at the heart of a four-decades-long separatist struggle. The BARMM was formed in 2019 as part of the region’s transition to autonomy, which will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

“Today is a moment for every believer to remain true to our core values: that, amidst the challenges of life, the sacrifices we endure hold profound meaning and wisdom,” the BARMM’s chief minister, Murad Ebrahim, said.

“It is through the sacrifices and obedience of the Bangsamoro people that we have progressed in our struggle for justice and equality.”