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UK government upholds Julian Assange extradition request

June 17, 2022

The British home secretary has signed an order authorizing the extradition of Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder has been involved in a legal battle for more than a decade over the release of classified US data.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016
Julian Assange faces espionage charges in the United StatesImage: Peter Nicholls/REUTERS

British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed an order on Friday authorizing the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the United States.

He is wanted in the US on 18 criminal charges, including breaking a spying law, relating to the release by Wikileaks of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables that Washington said had put lives in danger.

"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," the Home Office said in a statement.

WikiLeaks, the organization founded by Assange, said in a tweet that the approval of the extradition was "a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy."  WikiLeaks insisted that Assange "did nothing wrong" and was "being punished for doing his job," and indicated that the decision would be appealed. 

The organization slammed the British home secretary, saying: "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."

Assange's wife Stella, a lawyer who married her husband in a prison ceremony in March, confirmed that he would appeal the decision.

"We're going to fight this. We're going to use every appeal avenue," she said.

Stella Assange called the decision a "travesty" and said she would "spend every waking hour fighting for Julian until he is free, until justice is served."

Legal experts say the appeals process could involve months of court hearings.

The US case against Assange

The US has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial over thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published online in 2010.

He faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.

American prosecutors allege Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the classified documents that were later published, putting lives at risk.

Assange denies any wrongdoing. His supporters allege the case against him is politically motivated.

They argue he was acting as a journalist and as such is entitled to freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed US military misconduct during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

UK approves Assange extradition to US

Earlier ruling rejected extradition

A British judge had ruled Assange should not be deported, saying his mental health meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted and held in a maximum-security prison.

But this was overturned on an appeal after the US gave a package of assurances, including a pledge he could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.

Legal wrangle starting in 2010

Assange was also the center of a separate legal saga that unfolded in 2010 when Sweden sought his extradition from Britain over allegations of sex crimes

His supporters accused Stockholm of being part of a campaign by the US Pentagon to smear the Wikileaks founder, which the Swedish government denied.

When Assange lost that case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he spent seven years.

When he was finally dragged out of the diplomatic building in April 2019, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions, even though the Swedish case had been dropped.

Assange has been fighting extradition to the US since June that year and remains in London's high-security Belmarsh prison.

mm, kb/aw (AFP,AP)