On Friday, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel approved a U.S. request for Julian Assange’s extradition. The American government pursues custody of the Wikileaks founder following his unauthorized publication of sensitive documents in 2010 and 2011. Assange now has 14 days to file an appeal, BBC News reports.
As previously reported by The European Conservative, in March of this year Assange sought an appeal to the UK Supreme Court, which was subsequently denied. In April, a British judge gave the all-clear for extradition to take place, which left the final decision to the British government. The U.S. had asked British authorities for Assange so he could stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and 1 charge of computer misuse. He has also been charged with aiding U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing classified diplomatic cables and military files, which WikiLeaks later published, apparently putting lives at risk.
In a statement, the Home Office said that “the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust, or an abuse of process to extradite Mr. Assange,” and “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 U.S. he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”
Assange’s lawyers and close circle say that Assange is under heavy psychological strain and that he has suicidal thoughts. With the decision, Assange’s years-long battle to remain out of the U.S. legal system’s clutches reaches a critical juncture. Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, was quick to release a statement, saying:
This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.
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.
It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise. …
Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story known to all.
Various supporters and human rights organisations from across the political spectrum condemned Patel’s decision. Former leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn called it “utterly wrong,” while conservative columnist and writer Peter Hitchens (who had previously said he “couldn’t stand Assange”) found it “clearly a political case and should be rejected on those grounds alone, if there were no others available.”
Most vociferous in his condemnation was Assange’s fellow countryman, Australian journalist John Pilger, who remarked that “either we raise our voices as never before, or our silence colludes in the death of an heroic man.”
Assange faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted, though American authorities claim his time behind bars would likely be much shorter. Assange, now 50, would never be a free man while alive, however. Since 2019, he has been held at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London, after his arrest for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.
Faced with allegations of rape and sexual assault by a Swedish woman, Anna Ardin, who accused Assange of having tricked her into having sex without a condom in 2010, he had spent seven years inside Ecuador’s London Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. The country dropped its investigation in these matters in November 2019 because too much time had passed.
Assange is father to two children, both from his wife Stella.