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History repeats itself as Lauri Love fights extradition to the United States

Two-day hearing expected to be first major test of the post-McKinnon forum bar


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Electrical engineering student Lauri Love is challenging three extradition requests from the United States at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, in London. Love, who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, is facing potential extradition to the United States for his alleged involvement in #OpLastResort, the series of online protests that followed the persecution and untimely death of Reddit and Creative Commons co-creater Aaron Swartz, who was driven to suicide at the age of 26. If convicted in the US, Love faces a maximum sentence of 99 years.

The two-day hearing is expected to form the first substantive test of the forum bar, introduced into law in 2013 in the wake of the Gary McKinnon case in order to protect vulnerable British defendants from being extradited when, “in the interests of justice”, their cases could be heard at home instead. Theresa May blocked McKinnon’s extradition in 2012, after a decade-long public campaign, due to fears about McKinnon’s mental health, his suicide risk and how he would be treated if sent to the United States.

Janis Sharp, Gary McKinnon’s mother, who ran the ten-year campaign to assure his safety, said of Love’s case:

If the people of our country have the strength to vote for independence from the EU, then surely our judiciary have the guts to make decisions independently of the US.

Computer geeks are our future and when our country needs them, to protect us or our planet from ever increasing danger, where are they going to be? …locked up in hellholes on the other side of the world? Or driven to take their own lives as American computer genius Aaron Swartz did.

We burned our witches, don’t crucify our geeks.

Grace North, who has first-hand knowledge of the treatment of hackers in the US criminal justice system as coordinator of Jeremy Hammond’s support campaign, and who will be giving evidence at Lauri’s extradition hearing, said:

I have no doubt that Lauri Love would suffer the same grave mistreatment that has been perpetrated against Jeremy Hammond and other politically motivated prisoners during their incarceration in the United States prison system, including long stays in solitary confinement, heavy restrictions on communications with the “outside” world, and denial of participation in prison activities meant to educate prisoners and give them greater opportunities once they have completed their prison sentence. Mental healthcare, often needed to cope with the harsh conditions prisoners are forced to endure, is almost non-existent. Physical health concerns are often ignored, or written off as “malingering,” resulting in immense suffering.

It is clear that, given Lauri’s ongoing mental health issues, he would suffer enormously under these arcane and draconian conditions. The humane choice – indeed, the only choice – is to deny the United States their dangerous request to kidnap and torture Lauri.

Just like Gary McKinnon, Lauri Love has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Professor Simon Baron Cohen, director of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre and one of the world’s leading authorities on autism, will be among those providing expert testimony at Lauri’s extradition hearing this week.

Carol Povey, Director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society, which is also presenting written evidence about autism, said:

The National Autistic Society believes strongly that extradition could be inappropriate and damaging for anyone, like Mr Love, who has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

From our understanding of the likely detention conditions in the US in this case, we believe there would be a lack of support and practices, such as solitary confinement, that would cause anxiety and distress for an autistic person, particularly in light of their susceptibility to mental health difficulties.

The NAS campaigns to make sure that people on the autism spectrum are protected from undue harm in the UK criminal justice system and, although there is still much to be done, the UK system has shown itself ready to take this on. Indeed, 24 prisons in England are either already working with us or planning to in order to help them make reasonable adjustments for autistic prisoners and provide access to support services.

Ben Cooper of Doughty Street Chambers is lead counsel for Lauri Love in his defence of the US extradition request, instructed by Karen Todner at Kaim Todner solicitors.

Ben has a long history of representing individuals accused of sophisticated cybercrime before the Crown Court including members of the Anonymous and Lulzsec hacking groups. He successfully defended Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, accused in the US of copyright infringement, after negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement. Lauri Love’s US legal counsel is Tor Ekeland, who specializes in CFAA cases.

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