The United Kingdom on Friday has authorized a request from the United States to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face charges related to the publishing of classified military data, causing fury among Assange’s supporters.
The interior ministry of Home Secretary Priti Patel said Assange has 14 days to appeal the judgment, which came after a UK court cleared his removal in April.
In what they argue is a defense of media freedom and free expression, Assange’s supporters have held many protests to oppose his impending deportation.
Stella, his wife, has called for his release after they had two children in secret while he was imprisoned in Ecuador’s London embassy for years.
WikiLeaks described Patel’s decision as a “black day for press freedom and British democracy,” vowing to appeal to the High Court.
The US was accused of “planning his assassination,” according to the report.
“Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job,” the group said in a statement.
The lawsuit was “political,” according to WikiLeaks, because Assange provided evidence that the US “committed war crimes and covered them up.”
The extradition was an attempt to “disappear him for the rest of his life into the darkest corners of their jail system in order to prevent others from holding governments accountable.”
The government’s approval of the extradition “sends a chilling message” to journalists, according to the chairman of Amnesty International.
“If the extradition proceeds, Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Assange faces a high risk of prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture and other ill treatment,” said Agnes Callamard.
“Diplomatic assurances provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken on face value given previous history,” she added, calling for the charges to be dropped and Assange to be released.
According to a spokesperson for the Home Office, Patel has no legal grounds to challenge the extradition decision, which was issued on April 20 following a long legal struggle up the UK court system.
“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” the spokesman said.
“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.”
According to legal experts, Patel’s ruling is likely not the end of the road for Assange, who could face months of legal fights.
To appeal, Assange would first require authorization from the High Court. If that request is approved, the hearing may not take place until early next year.
“He might also go to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Kate Goold, an extradition lawyer at Bindmans in London.
“Once you get to the European Court of Human Rights, it’s a very, very slow procedure,” said Rebecca Niblock of Kingsley Napley, another expert.
“Extradition is a long process, and it’s unlikely that this will be the final step.”
The Assange case has become a symbol of media freedom, with advocates accusing the US of attempting to stifle coverage of serious security issues.
He is wanted for breaching the US Espionage Act by disclosing military and diplomatic information in 2010, and if proven guilty, he may face a term of up to 175 years in prison, though the actual sentence is difficult to predict.
He has been jailed on remand at a high-security prison in southeast London since 2019 for allegedly jumping bail in a prior case in Sweden accusing him of sexual assault.
Although the case against him was dismissed, he was not freed from prison after spending time for breaching bail on the grounds that he was a flight risk in the extradition proceedings to the United States.
On the basis that he would commit suicide if held in severe isolation in US detention, his supporters have fought to gain his release and prevent his extradition.
To avoid being deported to Sweden, Assange, who married in prison in March, spent seven years at Ecuador’s embassy in London.
When the government in Quito changed, he was jailed and his diplomatic protection was revoked.