PEN International: As the appeal hearing of Julian Assange ends, PEN reiterates calls for his immediate release

On February 20 and 21, 2024, Julian Assange’s legal team returned to the UK High Court in London, where a panel of two judges reviewed a 2023 High Court decision that denied Assange permission to appeal his extradition order. The outcome will determine whether Assange will have further chances to present his case in UK courts or will have exhausted all appeals in the UK, leading to the commencement of the extradition process or an application before the European Court of Human Rights. Representatives of PEN International, English PEN and PEN Norway attended the public hearing, reiterating their call to stop the extradition of Assange.

Inside the courtroom, PEN representatives heard Assange’s legal team argue that the case against him was politically motivated and that he would face the risk of serious human rights violations if extradited to the US, echoing concerns of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Assange’s mental and physical health has severely deteriorated as a result of being confined in Belmarsh high-security prison in London since April 2019. Although he was granted permission to attend the public hearing either in person or remotely, he was unable to do so due to ill health.

Speaking to media, PEN representatives reiterated the chilling effect and dangerous precedent Assange’s extradition would have on press freedom worldwide, and stressed how ‘espionage laws should not be used against journalists or publishers for disclosing information of public interest’.

Observing the two-day public hearing proved particularly difficult. Accreditation was only granted to a handful of MPs, media and NGO representatives following weeks of persisting requests, while observers monitoring proceedings virtually experienced severe connection issues. Although it cannot be predicted how the court will proceed, a decision is expected within the next few weeks.

PEN International, English PEN and PEN Norway once again urge the UK authorities to stop the extradition of Assange and call on the US authorities to drop the charges against him and withdraw their extradition request. The US and UK authorities must end their years-long judicial harassment of Assange and uphold instead their stated commitment to protect media freedom globally. Assange should be released from Belmarsh prison as a matter of urgency and reunited with his family. His freedom of movement upon release must be respected.

Background Information

For more information on Assange’s case, click here. To schedule an interview or for comments after the hearing, please contact Sabrina Tucci, PEN International Communications and Campaigns Manager: