The British government on Friday ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face charges of espionage – a milestone but not the end of a decade-long lawsuit.
WikiLeaks said it would challenge the order, and has 14 days to file an appeal.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has signed the order authorizing Assange’s extradition to the US, where he is facing charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of a large number of classified documents.
The decision was referred to Patel after a British court ruled in April that Assange could be sent to the US, where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer abuse. U.S. prosecutors say Assange illegally helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, which endangered lives.
The Home Office said in a statement that “the British courts did not find it would be oppressive, unfair or abusive to extradite Mr Assange,” and therefore the government had to approve the extradition.
“They also did not find that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that he, while in the US, would be treated appropriately, including with regard to his health, ”reads the statement. .
Supporters and lawyers for Assange, 50, allege that he acted as a journalist and was entitled to First Amendment protection of freedom of speech for the publication of documents exposing US military offenses in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated and that he can not get a fair trial in the US
“Today is not the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning of a new legal battle,” said Assange’s wife, Stella Assange. She said the UK decision was a “dark day for press freedom and for British democracy”.
“Julian did nothing wrong,” she said. “He has not committed any crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.”
A British judge approved the extradition in April and left the final decision to the government. The verdict came after a legal battle that went as far as the British High Court.
A British district court judge initially rejected the extradition request on the grounds that Assange would probably kill himself if he was detained under harsh US prison conditions. US authorities later gave the assurance that the WikiLeaks founder would not experience the serious treatment that, according to his lawyers, would endanger his physical and mental health. That assurance led to Britain’s High Court and High Court overturning the lower court’s ruling.
Journalism organizations and human rights groups have called on Britain to refuse the extradition request. Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the US, although US authorities have said that any sentence is likely to be much lower than that.
Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said on Friday that the extradition of Assange “would put him in great danger and send a cold message to journalists around the world.”
“If the extradition continues, Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Assange faces a high risk of prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the ban on torture or other ill-treatment,” she said. “Diplomatic assurance provided by the US that Assange will not be held in solitary confinement cannot be taken at face value given previous history.”
Assange has been detained at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Prior to that, he spent seven years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Sweden abandoned the investigations into sex crimes in November 2019 because so much time had passed.
In March, Assange and his partner Stella Moris, who have two sons together, were married in a jail ceremony.