UK gives go-ahead for US extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
British interior minister Priti Patel on Friday approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face criminal charges, bringing his long-running legal saga closer to a conclusion.
Assange 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.
His supporters have said he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised because he exposed US wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.
The British Home Office said his extradition had been approved, but he could appeal the decision. WikiLeaks said he would appeal.
“In this case, the UK courts have not found it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” it said. “Nor have they found extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that while in the US he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”
A British judge originally ruled Assange should not be deported, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted and held in a maximum-security prison.
This was overturned on an appeal after the US gave assurances, including a pledge he could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.
Patel’s decision does not mean the end of Australian-born Assange’s legal battle, which has been going on for more than a decade.
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 UK supreme court. But if an appeal is refused, Assange must be extradited within 28 days.
“This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy,” said Assange's wife Stella.
“Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle.”
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