Britain orders extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to US

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The British government on Friday ordered the founder of WikiLeaks The extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage and hacking charges. Assange has 14 days to appeal the decision, the UK Home Office said.

Assange has been held in a London prison since 2019, after evading arrest for seven years by seeking political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy.

His lawyers have argued that he is at high risk of suicide due to restrictions he may face while in US custody.

The Home Office said in a statement that “the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange. extradition would be inconsistent with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, and that while he is in the United States he will be treated appropriately, including with respect to his health .

Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, signed the extradition order. The Home Secretary is the final authority on extradition in the UK system — although Assange has other legal avenues he can follow to block the move, and experts say his arrival in the United States is far from imminent.

The Home Office said Assange “will not be handed over to the requesting state until all legal remedies have been exhausted.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused of breaking espionage law

In a statement, the WikiLeaks organization condemned the decision to extradite as “a dark day for freedom of the press and for British democracy”, calling the Home Secretary “an accomplice of the United States in its program aimed at turning investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise”.

The organization said Assange’s legal team would appeal: “Today is not the end of the fight. This is just the start of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the court system, the next appeal will be to the High Court. »

Barry Pollack, a US attorney for Assange, said: “This is disappointing news that should be of concern to anyone who cares about the First Amendment and the right to publish.”

Before his extradition, Assange could ask Britain’s highest court to hear more arguments, or he could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Every court would have to agree to hear Assange’s appeal, which is not guaranteed.

As part of the extradition proceedings, Britain’s top court in December accepted assurances from the US government about the specific security measures it would implement for Assange. The court declined to hear Assange’s appeal on this point in March.

A Virginia grand jury indicted Assange for 18 accounts, including conspiracy and disclosure of national defense information. Prosecutors allege he worked with former Army soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010 to obtain and release thousands of pages of military records and diplomatic cables from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The release of the information, officials said, put lives at risk. Assange says it was within his rights as a journalist and editor to research and disseminate information about controversial US activities.

In January 2021, a UK trial judge halted Assange’s extradition, finding him “a depressed and at times desperate man who is genuinely afraid of his future”, and at high risk of suicide under the conditions of solitary confinement. or very restrictive that he could face in detention in the United States. .

The US government then offered not to impose “special administrative measures” on Assange and to keep him out of the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado, pending trial, unless he did something about it. future to deserve such restrictions. The US government has said it will let Assange served his sentence in Australia if found guilty, and Australia accepted him. The government also offered to provide him with clinical and psychological treatment, following medical recommendations, while he remained in detention.

Based on these assurances, the British High Court authorized the extradition, noting that “the United Kingdom and the United States have a long history of co-operation on extradition, and the United States has in the past frequently provided, and invariably complied with, assurances.” The court also noted that a witness called by Assange’s team during the proceedings admitted that the Alexandria detention center, where Assange could be held in Virginia while awaiting trial, was a well-run prison with “a stellar record” in suicide prevention.

Nick Vamos, a London-based extradition expert, said Patel’s decision was not really in doubt after the court rulings because “she has very narrow discretion once the case is sent to her. “.

But Assange can still convince a higher court to weigh his arguments that the US lawsuits are politically motivated and an attack on his free speech, Vamos said, predicting that “it won’t be the end of the road for a while.” .

Karla Adam contributed to this report.

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