UK government approves Assange’s extradition; Possible Appeal – NBC Chicago

The British government has ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges. WikiLeaks said it would appeal.

Interior Minister Priti Patel signed the extradition order on Friday, her department said. It follows a British court ruling in April that Assange could be sent to the US over WikiLeaks’ publication of a massive collection of classified documents more than a decade ago.

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 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.

The US has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can 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 documents and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

“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 British democracy”.

“Julian didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “He has not committed any crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and editor and he is being punished for doing his job.”

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.

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.

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