LONDON ( Associated Press) – 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 that caused by his website’s publication of classified US documents.
WikiLeaks said it would challenge the order, and Assange’s lawyers have 14 days to file an appeal.
“We are not at the end of the road here,” said Assange’s wife, Stella Assange. “We are going to fight against this.”
Julian Assange fought for years in British courts to prevent being sent to the US, where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer abuse.
U.S. prosecutors say the Australian citizen helped U.S. military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, which endangered lives.
Assange, 50, is a mysterious journalist who has uncovered US military offenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A British court ruled in April that Assange could be sent to trial in the US, and sent the case to the British government for a ruling. Britain’s Home Secretary, Home Secretary Priti Patel, signed an order authorizing Assange’s extradition on Friday.
The Home Office said in a statement that the government should approve its move to the US because “the British courts did not find it would be oppressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange.”
Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. attorney, said it was “disappointing news for anyone who cares about the First Amendment and the right to publish.”
Assange’s lawyers have said they will tackle a new legal challenge, and legal experts say the case could take months or even years to complete.
READ MORE: US sues over release of WikiLeaks’ Assange
“We will appeal against this all the way, if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer.
Robinson has called on US President Joe Biden to drop the charges against Assange during Donald Trump’s presidency, arguing that they pose a “serious threat” to free speech.
At a press conference outside the British Consulate in New York, Assange’s father, John Shipton, also urged the US to drop the prosecution.
“All it will take is a simple phone call from Attorney General Merrick Garland to the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom to drop these charges. That’s all it will take. It is not complex, ”he said.
Assange’s supporters and lawyers maintain that he acted as a journalist and was entitled to protection of freedom of speech by the first amendment. They argue that the case is politically motivated, that he will face inhuman treatment and will not be able to get a fair trial in the US.
Silkie Carlo, director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said the British government’s “complicity in the political prosecution of a journalist simply for revealing uncomfortable truths to the public is appalling, wrong and shameful for our country.”
Stella Assange, a lawyer who married her husband in a jail ceremony in March, said the UK decision was “a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy”.
“Julian did nothing wrong,” she said. “He did not commit any crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job. ”
Friday’s decision 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 endanger him and send a cold message to journalists around the world.”
Assange remains in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, where he has been since he was arrested in 2019 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 dropped the investigations into sex crimes in November 2019 because so much time had passed, but British judges kept Assange in jail pending the outcome of the extradition case.
Assange’s supporters say his physical and mental health are both under pressure. Stella Assange said at a news conference that her husband’s condition “deteriorated by the day”.
“I also spoke to him last night and he was very anxious. He could not sleep, “she said. “But Julian is a warrior.”
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York contributed.