British Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Friday the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face the US justice system. The former hacker is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks’ release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables which Washington said had put lives in danger.
Assange’s supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.
“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.
“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” it added. “Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that whilst in the US he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”
Patel’s decision does not mean the end of Australian-born Assange’s legal fight which has been going on for more than a decade and could continue for many more months.
He can launch an appeal at London’s High Court which must give its approval for a challenge to proceed. He can ultimately seek to take his case to the United Kingdom Supreme Court. But if an appeal is refused, Assange must be extradited within 28 days.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid an extradition order to Sweden over an allegation of rape and sexual assault, which he denies. The Australian obtained diplomatic protection from the Government of Ecuador, then presided by Rafael Correa, and lived in the embassy for seven years. During his stay at the diplomatic headquarters, a Spanish security firm called UC Global S.L. allegedly spied on the Australian activist’s conversations with his lawyers and allegedly relayed this material to US intelligence services.
When Lenin Moreno was elected the new president of Ecuador, the administration broke ties with Assange and handed him over to the British authorities in April 2019. The Moreno administration accused him of having abused Ecuador’s hospitality and interfered in the internal affairs of other countries, such as Spain, by posting messages in support of the Catalan independence movement.
After British police arrested Assange, the Swedish government reopened the sexual assault investigation. However, a court in Sweden ruled that Assange did not need to be detained, which prevented Swedish prosecutors from applying immediately for an extradition warrant. As a result, the extradition request of the US government took precedence. The Swedish justice decided to shelve the case last November.
While living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange fathered two children with Stella Morris, a South African-born lawyer. The children Gabriel and Max, are aged two and one, respectively.
On Sunday, Morris told the British newspaper Mail Online about her concerns for Assange, who she married in March. “‘Over the past five years I have discovered that love makes the most intolerable circumstances seem bearable but this is different – I am now terrified I will not see him alive again,” she said. “Julian’s poor physical health puts him at serious risk, like many other vulnerable people, and I don’t believe he will survive infection with coronavirus.”