Julian Assange will likely appeal after the UK government approves his extradition to the US

The British government on Friday ordered the extradition of the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges – a milestone, but not the end of the decade-long legal saga.

WikiLeaks said it would contest the order and has 14 days to file an appeal.

Home Secretary Priti Patel signed the order authorizing Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he faces charges for publishing a massive collection of classified documents by WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pauses as he delivers a statement to the media gathered in front of London's High Court on Monday, December 5, 2011.
A British court ruled in April that Assange could be sent to the US. (file/AP)

The decision was forwarded to Patel after a British court ruled in April that Assange could be sent to the US, where he will stand trial on 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.

US prosecutors say Assange illegally helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal confidential diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting “lives at risk”.

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”, and so the government had to approve the extradition.

“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 in the US he will be treated properly, including with regard to his health,” he said. .

The British government has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges. (60 minutes)

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 and that he cannot get a fair trial in the US.

“Today is not the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning of a new legal battle,” said Assange’s wife, Stella Assange.

She said the UK’s decision marked “a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy”.

“Julian didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

Julian Assange and his partner Stella Moris
Julian Assange and his partner Stella Moris (Twitter/Stella Morris)

“He hasn’t committed any crimes and he’s not a criminal. He’s a journalist and editor and he’s being punished for doing his job.”

Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, has asked for the Australian government’s support.

“Julian’s life is literally in the hands of the Australian government,” he said.

“We know from independent medical reports that his mental state is very poor.

“This is exacerbated by the harsh conditions of his current prison and the knowledge that he will never receive a fair trial if he is extradited to the United States.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen with his security tag around his ankle at the house he is forced to stay near Bungay, England, Wednesday, June 15, 2011.
Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, asked for the Australian government’s support to “end this nightmare” (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“I ask Mr Albanese to pick up the phone and ask President Biden to end this nightmare.”

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance also called on the Australian government to take urgent action to pressure the US and UK governments to drop all charges against Assange and allow him to be with his wife and children.

However, a statement by Foreign Minister Penny Wong noted that the Australian government could not “intervene in the legal affairs of another country”.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to provide consular assistance to Assange, noting that Australia is not party to Assange’s case, nor can the Australian government intervene in another country’s legal matters,” the statement read.

“We will continue to convey our expectations that Assange is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to adequate medical care and access to his legal team.

“The Australian government was clear in our view that the Assange case had been dragging on for a long time and that it should be closed.

A statement by Foreign Minister Penny Wong noted that the Australian government could not “intervene in another country’s legal matters”. (AP)

“We will continue to express this opinion to the UK and US Governments.”

A British judge approved the extradition in April, leaving the final decision to the government.

The decision came after a legal battle that went all the way to the UK Supreme Court.

A British district court judge initially rejected the extradition request on the grounds that Assange would likely kill himself if held under harsh prison conditions in the United States.

US officials later assured that the WikiLeaks founder would not face harsh treatment that his lawyers said would jeopardize his physical and mental health.

These assurances led the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Great Britain to overturn the lower court’s decision.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Friday, February 5, 2016.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in February 2016. (file/AP)

News organizations and human rights groups have asked Britain to refuse the extradition request.

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.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said on Friday that Assange’s extradition “would put him at great risk and send a chilling message to journalists around the world”.

“If the extradition proceeds, 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.

“The diplomatic assurances provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken at face value, given previous history.”

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.

In March, Assange and his partner Stella Moris, who have two children together, were married in a prison ceremony.

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