TBritish authorities approved Friday Julian Assange’s extradition to the U.S. on the Espionage Act. WikiLeaks stated that it will challenge the decision. He is allowed to appeal for 14 days.
Assange, aged 50, is an Australian national,He is being sought in the U.S. for 18 criminal cases after WikiLeaks, which published thousands secret U.S. military records and diplomatic documents in relation to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2009-2010.
The extradition order, signed by British Home Secretary Priti Patel, came after a long legal battle that went all the way up to the country’s Supreme Court. Assange’s lawyers argued that he is at risk of suicide if held in a maximum security prison in the U.S., but the British courts accepted U.S. assurances over Assange’s treatment.
“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 British Home Office said in a statement. “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.”
The decision was condemned by human rights organizations and the press freedom movement.
This is what you need to know so far about the story:
Julian Assange: Who are you and where is WikiLeaks located?
WikiLeaks, a cyber activist, was established in 2006 by Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, to reveal state secrets in public interest. Chelsea Manning, an intelligence officer in the United States Army, provided WikiLeaks more than 700,000. These highly classified documents were related to wars in Iraq/Afghanistan.
These documents contained evidence that the U.S. had committed war crimes. This included footage of U.S. soldiers killing and shooting civilians in Iraq from an unmanned helicopter. U.S. claims that disclosure of sensitive data about surveillance techniques and human intelligence sources could put people’s lives at risk. Assange’s lawyers said he worked with media partners and the U.S. government to redact the names, and that access to the unredacted information was the fault of a book published by The Guardian—an allegation the newspaper denied.
Assange was in Sweden to attend a conference when he was issued an arrest warrant by Swedish authorities. Assange is accused of having raped and assaulted two women. Assange claimed that the claims were made in London to make it easier for him to be extradited to the U.S. because he published sensitive documents. His lawyers said that Assange’s offers to be interviewed in the Swedish embassy in London or over the phone were declined.
Assange, who was being extradited to Sweden in June 2012, skipped bail and fled to London’s Ecuadorian embassy. He was granted asylum in Ecuador two months later on grounds of political persecution. He resided in the embassy building for seven years, during which time the Swedish investigation was dropped, initially in 2017 because he couldn’t be interviewed. The case was briefly reopened after he left the embassy in 2019, but dropped again because prosecutors say witnesses’ memories had faded after a decade, making the oral testimony weaker.
Why would the U.S. extradite Assange to their country?
After a series of alleged behavioral transgressions in the embassy, Ecuador revoked Assange’s diplomatic asylum in April 2019. His supporters claimed the move was in retaliation to WikiLeaks’ sharing a tweet about a corruption probe into Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno. Moreno has denied any wrongdoing and said the decision was taken because Assange’s behavior was too disruptive.
Assange was detained by British police within hours after he lost his immunity. Assange had been issued a U.S. Extradition Warrant to be charged with government computer hacking. He was also charged by the British for violating bail 2012 and sentenced to 50-weeks in London’s high security prison. Assange was also indicted under 17 additional U.S. charges. Espionage Act. This total sentence carried a maximum of 170 year imprisonment. Assange and his supporters argue that WikiLeaks’ publishing of secret documents does not amount to espionage, and that the material is in the public interest.
In the high security Belmarsh prison, Assange’s health has reportedly deteriorated. In a significant intervention, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, said that an examination of Assange in May 2019 showed “symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.” The British government disagreed with some of his observations.
In May 2019, Assange was extradited to the U.S. but the COVID-19 epidemic halted the proceedings. A British judge decided that Assange couldn’t be extradited because he was at risk of dying in prison. The U.S. appealed this decision and denied Assange bail. This was due to fears that he would jump bail.
Learn more What to Know About Julian Assange’s Extradition Appeal
After Assange was convicted, the U.S. appealed to the High Court. They assured him that Assange wouldn’t be held in harsh conditions and would have a low suicide risk. Assange’s defense argued that the assurances could not be trusted—the U.S. withheld the right to rescind the special measures if it felt it was necessary. Also, the defense drew our attention to “a Yahoo NewsA September 2021 report claimed that the CIA planned to murder, kidnap, or assassinate Assange. In December 2021 the High Court ruled in favor U.S.A. and in April, another London court officially approved extradition.
What do Assange’s supporters say?
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Freedom From Torture condemned the British government’s signing of the extradition order on June 19 as “disturbing” and “cruel.”
“Despite promising that he will not face prolonged solitary confinement amounting to torture or other ill-treatment if extradited, U.S. authorities have openly stated that they can change the terms of Assange’s imprisonment as they see fit,” Tracy Doig, Head of International Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said in a statement. “No one should be extradited to a country if they are in danger of being tortured.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and international press freedom activists are standing by Assange, arguing that he was acting in the public’s interest. “The decision to sign this extradition order is shameful,” Rebecca Vincent, director of International Campaigns for RSF, tells TIME. “The British government is enabling the U.S. government to pursue a publisher simply for publishing information in the public interest. It’s really concerning that the U.K. government would fail to protect him and the principles at stake.”
Learn more ‘Historic for All the Wrong Reasons.’ Press Freedom Advocates Condemn Julian Assange Extradition Ruling
Vincent believes that the British government’s decision was politically motivated to please Washington. Part of the two nations’ long-standing bilateral collaboration is an extradition treaty that makes it easier for each country to hand over suspected criminals to face trial. “It sends a concerning message to others, not just journalists, but other critics, people who might come to this country expecting to be protected, that the U.K. government can be pressured by other governments,” Vincent says.
Leaking documents in the public interest is now “part-and-parcel” of modern journalism, Vincent says. “We’ve seen big collaborative projects like Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, and it’s worth noting that WikiLeaks started that,” she says. “It’s changed the face of journalism.” Punishing this kind of act would set a “dangerous precedent,” she adds.
Next, what’s the next step?
Assange will have 14 days to appeal the extradition decision. Vincent states that the outcome of legal proceedings may be different this time than in previous cases. While the previous hearings at the High Court and Supreme Court focused on “narrower” legal points in the case, she says, any potential appeal now will take into account the case “as a whole.” “Theoretically, we could see a quite different decision, we could see a strong decision in his favor.”
Assange is still in Belmarsh prison. Stella Assange and Assange’s children are allowed to visit him while the investigation continues. Mrs. Assange, a lawyer, was initially on Assange’s legal team, but they started a relationship during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy.
She told journalists at a October press conference that Assange is suffering mentally and physically as a consequence of these proceedings. “I saw Julian in Belmarsh prison. He was looking very unwell…I was quite taken aback by how thin he was,” she said.
Even though the British court is currently deciding on the matter, it’s possible for the U.S. to withdraw the request. Vincent says that U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision not to distance his administration from the case when he assumed office was a “missed opportunity.”
“This case will continue to be a blight on the reputation of the U.S. government as long as it continues,” she says. “You can’t undo the last 11 years, but they can do the right thing going forward.”
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