The possibility that Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, could be extradited to the United States seemed to edge closer on Tuesday, after American officials sent assurances to British authorities that he would not face the death penalty or be persecuted for his nationality, and that he could seek First Amendment protections.

The assurances were the latest turn in a prolonged legal battle over the extradition of Mr. Assange, who has been indicted by the United States for violating the Espionage Act by publishing classified documents. They came after a remark from President Biden last week that the administration was considering a request from Mr. Assange’s home country of Australia that he be allowed to return there, prompting speculation that the U.S. could be rethinking the case.

But the filing of the commitments, requested by a British court last month as part of Mr. Assange’s five-year battle against extradition to the United States, suggested that American authorities may still be pursuing his removal.

Mr. Assange, 52, was the head of WikiLeaks in 2010 when it published tens of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst. He has been held in a high-security British prison since the charges were filed in 2019. Before that, he had taken refuge for years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The charges raised questions about First Amendment issues, and some saw them as a threat to press freedom.

Mr. Assange’s extradition was put on hold by the court earlier this year pending assurances about his treatment if he were sent to the United States, as the judges sought commitments that he would not be penalized for his nationality, that he would be able to seek protections under the First Amendment and that he would not face the death penalty.


In a letter to the British Foreign Office, the U.S. Embassy in London said that Mr. Assange, who is Australian, “will not be prejudiced by reason of his nationality,” promising that, if he were extradited, he would have the ability to seek “the rights and protections given under the First Amendment.” The Embassy also noted that the death penalty would “neither be sought or imposed” in his case.

After the comments from Mr. Biden, Stella Assange, Mr. Assange’s wife, said that she was hopeful, but that his extradition case had reached a critical moment. But she said on Tuesday that the new assurances sent to the court did little to assuage fears about how her husband would be treated.

“The diplomatic note does nothing to relieve our family’s extreme distress about his future — his grim expectation of spending the rest of his life in isolation in U.S. prison for publishing award-winning journalism,” she said in a statement. “The Biden Administration must drop this dangerous prosecution before it is too late.”

In their ruling last month, the British judges said there would be a hearing on May 20, once the assurances were submitted, to decide if they were “satisfactory,” and to make a final decision on Mr. Assange’s ability to appeal his extradition.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia has publicly spoken about discussing Mr. Assange’s case with Mr. Biden and urged him to consider Mr. Assange’s release. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the latest assurances in Mr. Assange’s case.

Charlie Savage contributed reporting from Washington.

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