LONDON – The British government passed an extradition order on Friday for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, confirming a court ruling that he could be sent to the United States to stand trial on espionage charges, though his legal fight against decision is probably not over.
While the order is a blow to Assange, whose case is seen by human rights groups as a potential challenge to press freedom, he is likely to once again appeal the ruling in a British court, a path that legal experts say is still open.
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said that “on 17 June, after consideration by the Magistrates Court and the High Court, the extradition of Mr. Julian Assange to the US”, adding that “Mr. Assange retains the normal 14-day right of appeal.”
The Home Office pointed to a British court ruling that it did not consider “that it would be oppressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Assange”.
Furthermore, the courts 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 appropriately, including with regard to his health. ”
His defense team has yet to say what comes next. The approval of the order by Priti Patel, the home minister, is just the latest twist in a long legal battle and comes after a British court ordered Assange’s extradition in April.
In 2019, Assange was charged in the United States under the Espionage Act for obtaining and publishing confidential government documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on WikiLeaks in 2010. These files were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst, before to be published by the website.
During the protracted legal battle against his extradition, Assange remained in custody at London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he was held for nearly three years. Mr. Assange married his partner Stella Moris in prison this year.
He was arrested in London in 2019 after spending seven years in hiding at the Ecuadorian Embassy in an effort to avoid arrest while fighting extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning in a rape inquiry. That case was later shelved.
Under current government guidelines, Patel can only block extradition requests in a small number of circumstances. This includes cases concerning people previously extradited or transferred to Britain from elsewhere, others involving people facing the death penalty or those who may be charged with other previously unannounced offenses after their transfers.
But if none of these issues were involved, Patel would have no reason to refuse an extradition request and would be obliged to comply, according to the Interior Ministry.
However, Assange’s legal team will still be able to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court both Patel’s decision and various other points of concern about the US request. The Supreme Court will then decide on which points Mr. Assange can appeal, if any. This process can take several months.
Once he’s exhausted his options in British courts, Assange could also try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, although it’s not yet clear how much authority he would have over the UK’s decision after it left the European Union.
Human rights groups expressed concerns that Assange’s extradition to the United States could threaten press freedom, and when the court ruled on his case, several organizations denounced the move.