LONDON – On Friday, the British government ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage – a milestone, but not the end of a decade-long legal saga.
WikiLeaks said they would question the order and have 14 days to appeal.
Interior Minister Priti Patel signed the order approving Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he is accused of publishing a huge amount of classified documents on WikiLeaks.
The decision was referred to Patel after a British court in April ruled that Assange could be sent to the United States, where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one count of computer abuse. U.S. prosecutors say Assange illegally helped U.S. military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files later published by WikiLeaks, putting lives at stake.
The Home Office said in a statement that “the British courts have not found it to be oppressive, unfair or abusive to extradite Assange”, and therefore the government had to approve the extradition.
“Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, and that while he is in the United States he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.” , is it called. .
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. They claim that his case is politically motivated and that he can not get a fair trial in the United States
‘Today is not the end of the struggle. This is just the beginning of a new legal battle, says Assange’s wife Stella Assange. She said the British decision marked “a dark day for freedom of the press 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 publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.”
A British judge approved the extradition in April and handed the final decision to the government. The verdict came after a legal battle that went all the way to Britain’s highest court.
A British district court judge had initially refused extradition on the grounds that Assange was likely to commit suicide if he was held in harsh US prison conditions. U.S. authorities later gave assurances that the WikiLeaks founder would not be subjected to the harsh treatment that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk. These assurances led to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court overturning the lower court’s judgment.
Journalists’ organizations and human rights groups had called on the UK to reject the extradition request. Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the United States, although US authorities have said each sentence is likely to be much lower than that.
“If 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 assurances from the United States that Assange will not be held in solitary confinement cannot be taken at face value given past history.”
Assange has been imprisoned in Britain’s high security prison Belmarsh in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual abuse.
Sweden closed down the sex crime investigations in November 2019 because such a long time had passed.
In March, Assange and his partner Stella Moris, who have two sons together, got married in a prison ceremony.