Britain has approved the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the US. This was confirmed by the Home Office in London on Friday.
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Home Secretary Priti Patel signed an extradition order, her ministry said on Friday. “Mr Assange has the right to appeal within the usual 14-day period,” the Home Office said.
After years of back-and-forth in various courts, it was the British government’s turn after a court in London approved Assange’s extradition in April. At the time, his lawyers said they would appeal Patel’s decision if she agreed to extradition.
At the end of last year, the High Court in London lifted an extradition ban on Assange that had previously been issued because of the risk of suicide. The Supreme Court (Supreme Court) had recently rejected an appeal.
It was initially unclear whether and when the 50-year-old Australian would be extradited. If the judges give the green light for extradition, Assange must be flown to the United States no later than 28 days later.
According to his supporters, legal recourse has not yet been exhausted. They fear that he will be sent to a maximum security prison, despite assurances from Washington to the contrary. “This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy,” said Assange’s wife Stella. “Today the fight does not end. It’s just the beginning of a new legal battle.”
In the US, Assange is accused of espionage and the publication of hundreds of thousands of secret documents on the Wikileaks disclosure platform about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The papers contained explosive information about US operations in these countries, including the killing of civilians and the mistreatment of prisoners.
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He is accused of having stolen and published secret material from US military operations together with whistleblower Chelsea Manning, thereby endangering the lives of US informants.
In the US, he faces up to 175 years in prison
If convicted in the US, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison. The 50-year-old and his supporters have repeatedly criticized the procedures as politically motivated. His supporters see him as an investigative journalist who has brought war crimes to light and who is now to be made an example of.
A Home Office spokesman justified the decision by saying: “British courts have not found in this case that it would be repressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange.” Freedom of expression – are not affected. Assange now has two weeks to appeal. Those around him fear he will be placed in solitary confinement and not receive a fair trial, despite assurances to the contrary from Washington.
“Black Day for Press Freedom”
Wikileaks spoke of a “black day for press freedom and British democracy”. Patel made himself an accomplice to the United States, which wanted to make investigative journalism a crime. The platform even accuses US intelligence agencies of being involved in a plot to assassinate Assange. The legal dispute over an extradition has dragged on for years.
Assange has been held in Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison since his arrest in April 2019. Before that, he had evaded law enforcement for several years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They had initially sought him in Sweden because of allegations of rape. However, these allegations were later dropped for lack of evidence.
Wikileaks wants to keep fighting for him
It is still unclear whether the 50-year-old will actually be extradited. According to his supporters, legal recourse has not yet been exhausted. “We will take legal action. The next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout louder on the streets,” the Wikileaks statement said.
The federal government also pointed out that the decision to extradite is still contestable. Deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said in Berlin: “According to the current state of knowledge, there is probably another legal route possible.” This will be “observed very closely”.
The human rights policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Peter Heidt, was surprised “that the British government saw no reasons against Assange’s extradition to the USA”. Non-extradition would have been “a strong sign of press freedom,” he said, according to a statement. However, he also emphasized that Great Britain and the United States of America are constitutional states.
PEN Berlin made Assange an honorary member
The newly founded writers’ association PEN Berlin, which immediately made Assange an honorary member, called on the government to go further: “We urgently request the federal government to work for his immediate release and to offer him political asylum,” it said in a statement. According to the association, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock campaigned for this as a member of the opposition last year.
The organization Reporters Without Borders spoke of a “devastating signal for freedom of the press”. The German Association of Journalists called on the United States to drop the charges. If President Joe Biden denounces Russian war crimes in Ukraine, he should not take extreme legal action against the investigators of American war crimes. (AFP/dpa/Reuters)