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Julian Assange's wife takes hope as Biden says U.S. considering dropping charges against WikiLeaks founder

U.K. court delays Assange extradition
U.K. court delays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to U.S. 03:53

London - The wife of Julian Assange said Thursday that her husband's legal case "could be moving in the right direction" after President Biden indicated that the U.S. could drop charges against the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder. It came as supporters in several cities rallied to demand the release of Assange on the fifth anniversary of his incarceration in London's high-security Belmarsh prison.

Asked by a reporter on Wednesday as he walked outside the White House about a request from Australia to drop the decade-long U.S. push to prosecute Assange for publishing classified American documents, Mr. Biden replied: "We're considering it."

The proposal would see Assange, an Australian citizen, return home rather than be sent to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

U.S. officials have not provided any further detail, but Stella Assange said the comments were "a good sign."

"It looks like things could be moving in the right direction," she told CBS News partner network BBC News, calling the indictment of her husband "a Trump legacy," and adding that in her mind, "really Joe Biden should have dropped it from day one."

UK High Court Delivers Judgment On Julian Assange's Extradition Appeal
Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, prepares to speak to the media with a poster of her husband behind her outside the Royal Courts of Justice after a decision on Julian Assange's extradition appeal was adjourned to May 20, on March 26, 2024, in London, England. Leon Neal/Getty

Assange has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website's publication of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange, 52, encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the U.S. treatment of Assange and Manning. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Manning's 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

Assange's supporters say he is a journalist protected by the First Amendment who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange has been in prison since 2019, and he spent seven years before that holed up in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The relationship between Assange and his Ecuadorian hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him in Belmarsh for breaching bail in 2012.

The U.K. government signed an extradition order in 2022, but a British court ruled last month that Assange can't be sent to the United States unless U.S. authorities guarantee he won't get the death penalty and provide other assurances. A further court hearing in the case is scheduled for May 20.

The court said Assange "has a real prospect of success on 3 of the 9 grounds of appeal" he has argued against his extradition. Specifically, the court demanded that U.S. justice officials confirm he will be "permitted to rely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which protects free speech), that he is not prejudiced at trial (including sentence) by reason of his nationality, that he is afforded the same First Amendment protections as a United States citizen and that the death penalty is not imposed."  

Assange was too ill to attend his most recent hearings. Stella Assange has said her husband's health continues to deteriorate in prison and she fears he'll die behind bars.

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