Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Freedom of Speech

2:30 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Gavan for raising this matter, which has been the subject of much media comment in recent years. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, has informed me that officials of his Department are following the case of Mr. Julian Assange. Mr. Assange, an Australian citizen and the public face of the Wikileaks website, was arrested by British police in London in April 2019 after he left the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador because the asylum that had been granted to him by Ecuador about seven years previously was withdrawn. He was initially jailed in May 2019 at Belmarsh Prison, London, for a breach of bail conditions. In September 2019 his remand status was changed from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition. Mr. Assange is currently detained in the UK on an extradition request from the United States. In September 2020 he appeared before the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales for an extradition hearing. He faced a United States federal grand jury indictment. According to a US Department of Justice release of 24 June 2020, this indictment included charges of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, seven counts of obtaining national defence information and nine counts of disclosure of national defence information.

On 4 January 2021, at Westminster Magistrates Court, the request of the United States for Mr. Assange's extradition was refused. The full text of this ruling can be found on the website of the Judiciary of England and Wales. I understand from press reports that the United States Government lodged an appeal against this ruling on 15 January 2021 and was given more time to submit detailed grounds for its appeal. Recent media coverage indicates that in August the UK High Court handed down a judgment that will allow the US Government to expand the grounds for this appeal. According to the press reports, Mr. Assange appeared at the hearing via video link from Belmarsh Prison.

The Minister considers this to be a legal matter within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom that appears to be subject to ongoing legal proceedings. The question of the next steps for Mr. Assange rests with the UK judicial authorities. As legal proceedings are under way on this matter in another jurisdiction, the Minister does not intend to comment on this case.


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