London — The British government ordered the extradition ofto the United States to face espionage charges. The WikiLeaks founder will likely appeal, but Interior Minister Priti Patel signed the extradition order on Friday, her department said, following a British court ruling in April that Assange could be sent to the US.
The Home Office said in a statement that “the UK courts did not find it oppressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Assange”.
“They also did not find 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 US he will be treated properly, including with regard to his health.”
The decision is a big moment in Assange’s years-long battle to avoid being tried in the US – though not necessarily the end of the story. Assange has 14 days to appeal.
A British judge approved the extradition in April, leaving the final decision to the government. The decision came after a legal battle that.
The United States has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial on 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse for publishing a huge collection of classified documents by WikiLeaks more than a decade ago. US prosecutors say Assange illegally helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal confidential diplomatic documents and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.
News organizations and human rights groups have asked the UK to refuse the extradition request.
Defenders and lawyers for Assange, 50, argue that he was working as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment freedom of speech protections for publishing documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated.
Assange’s lawyers say he faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the US, although US officials have said any sentence is likely to be much shorter than that.
Assange has been held at the high security Belmarsh Prison in Britain in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Prior to that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault charges.
Sweden abandoned sex offense investigations in November 2019 because too much time had elapsed.