Julian Assange's extradition to US approved by Britain

WikiLeaks founder faces espionage charges

Julian Assange's wife says his extradition to US is an attack on press freedom

Julian Assange wife
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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has signed an order to extradite Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges.

The WikiLeaks founder has been at the centre of a protracted legal fight for more than a decade. Next week marks 10 years since he took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid being extradited to the US.

The Australian, 50, is now being held at Belmarsh prison in London. He was held on a series of charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of a trove of classified documents.

Ms Patel made the decision on Friday, although Mr Assange’s legal team will mount an appeal. It follows a British court ruling in April that Mr Assange could be sent to the US.

WikiLeaks said the decision is “not the end of the fight”.

At a press conference, his wife Stella pledged to fight the decision with “every available avenue”, pledging: “I’m going to use every waking hour fighting for Julian until he is free.”

She said her husband had told her “recently” that he planned to kill himself if he was extradited.

A Home Office representative said: “Under the Extradition Act 2003, the Secretary of State must sign an extradition order if there are no grounds to prohibit the order being made. Extradition requests are only sent to the Home Secretary once a judge decides it can proceed after considering various aspects of the case.

“On 17 June, following consideration by both the Magistrates' Court and High Court, the extradition of Mr Julian Assange to the US was ordered. Mr Assange retains the normal 14-day right to appeal.

Five facts about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Five facts about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange.

“Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that whilst in the US he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”

Mrs Assange's said shortly after the decision was announced: “The Home Secretary has approved sending Julian to the country that planned to murder him. Julian has exposed US government criminality.”

She told the PA news agency: “The Home Secretary is condoning not only the criminality committed by the US government against Julian, but also those US government crimes exposed by WikiLeaks.

“Julian is a political prisoner. We will use every avenue to appeal this decision. I will dedicate every waking hour to fight for justice until he is free.”

WikiLeaks said it was a “dark day for press freedom and British democracy” after Ms Patel signed the order.

“Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination,” the organisation said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

“It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.”

A British judge approved the extradition in April, leaving the final decision to the government. The ruling came after a legal battle that went all the way to the UK Supreme Court.

The US has asked British authorities to extradite Mr Assange so he can stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of the classified documents more than a decade ago. American prosecutors say Mr Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Supporters and lawyers for Mr Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated.

However, the approval of Mr Assange’s extradition to the US is unlikely to bring to an end his many years in the UK as he still has avenues of appeal open to him, according to specialist lawyers.

His team has 14 days to make an application to appeal against Ms Patel’s decision.

Kate Goold, a partner at Bindmans law firm, said: “If he still has the desire to fight, which I am sure he does, I think Priti Patel’s decision is not the end.

“There are potential further avenues to appeal that he could utilise. It is unlikely to be the end of Mr Assange in the UK.”

Ms Goold, who has specialised in extradition cases for 12 years, added: “I think that he may have already lodged an application for permission to appeal on the other arguments he raised in the lower court around the political elements of this matter and freedom of speech.”

Mr Assange has been held at the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested after 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 allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

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Updated: June 17, 2022, 2:10 PM