May 27, 2022

Judge approves Julian Assange extradition to US to face spy charges

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now one step closer to facing espionage charges in the US, after a British judge formally approved his extradition.

The case will now go to Britain’s interior minister for a decision, and Assange, 50, still has legal avenues of appeal.

A judge at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday issued the extradition order in a brief hearing, as Assange watched by video link from Belmarsh Prison. He stated his full name and date of birth.

Julian Assange.
Julian Assange still has legal avenues of appeal.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

It is now up to Home Secretary Priti Patel to decide whether to grant the extradition.

The order comes after the UK Supreme Court last month refused Assange permission to appeal against a lower court’s ruling that he could be extradited.

The move doesn’t exhaust the legal options for Assange, who has sought for years to avoid a trial in the US on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse related to WikiLeaks’ publication of a massive trove of classified documents more than a decade ago.

Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside court.
Last month, the UK Supreme Court refused Julian Assange permission to appeal against a lower court’s ruling that he could be extradited.
Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images

His lawyers have four weeks to make submissions to Patel, and can also seek to appeal to the High Court.

Assange lawyer Mark Summers told the court that the legal team had “serious submissions” to make.

American prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal 500,000 classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.

Julian Assange.
Julian Assange has been held at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.
Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Facundo Arrizabalaga

Supporters and lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated.

A British district court judge had initially rejected a US extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh US prison conditions. US authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t be held in solitary confinement at a federal supermax prison that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.

In December, the High Court overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that the US promises were enough to guarantee that Assange would be treated humanely.

Stella Morris, the wife of Julian Assange.
Stella Morris, the wife of Julian Assange, leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.
James Manning/PA via AP

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the US, though American authorities have said the sentence was likely to be much lower than that.

Assange has been held at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

Court sketch of Julian Assange.
Julian Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the US.
Elizabeth Cook/PA via AP

Last month, Assange and his former lawyer Stella Moris married in a prison ceremony.

Before the wedding, she proudly wrote in The Guardian how she would go “through the gates at the most oppressive high-security prison” in Britain to marry “the love of my life.”

With Post Wires

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