LONDON – After the British government approved his extradition to the United States, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange does not have many options available to him.
The U.K.’s decision represents the latest chapter in a long legal battle that began when former U.S. military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning misappropriated secret government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Assange later published on WikiLeaks in 2010.
The decision, approved Friday, June 17, by British Home Secretary Priti Patel, is the latest in a series of legal battles Assange has lost in an attempt to remain in the United Kingdom. It is a major blow to the WikiLeaks founder, who has spent the past decade taking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy or a U.K. prison. In addition, the increasingly likely trial against him in a U.S. court illustrates the delicate moment for the power of media outlets to publish material that can be considered a threat to a country’s national security.
“This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy,” WikiLeaks said in a statement shared on Twitter. “Julian has done nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and an editor.” WikiLeaks said Assange intends to appeal.
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“Assange may have at least one other avenue to appeal, so it may still be too early to consider him already on a flight to the United States,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of Press group. “However, this is a further troubling development in a case that could jeopardize the rights of journalists in the 21st century.
Friday’s ruling overturns a December 2021 decision that ruled Assange could not be extradited because incarceration in the United States could increase his risk of suicide. Now, however, the judge has accepted U.S. assurances that Assange will not be subjected to solitary confinement and will have access to psychological treatment.
The U.S. charges against Assange date back to April 2019, when the country’s Justice Department indicted him on hacking charges-Assange was accused of conspiring with Manning to steal U.S. Defense Department secrets. The initial indictment centered on the presumption that Assange actively helped Manning crack a password to gain access to a classified section of a military network-a carefully worded charge that seemed designed to distinguish Assange from mainstream journalists and instead label him a cybercriminal.
The U.S. government’s relentless attempts to prosecute Julian Assange for making public documents also concerning possible war crimes committed by the U.S. military are nothing less than a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression.
Julian Assange is currently being held in the Belmarsh maximum security prison in the United Kingdom on the basis of a U.S. extradition request for charges stemming directly from the publication of secret documents as part of his work with Wikileaks.
We strongly oppose Julian Assange being extradited or otherwise transferred to the U.S., where he faces serious human rights violations, including detention conditions that could amount to torture and other mistreatment, such as prolonged solitary confinement. The fact that he has been the target of a hostile campaign promoted by U.S. officials up to the highest levels undermines his right to the presumption of innocence and exposes him to the risk of an unfair trial.
Julian Assange’s publication of documents as part of his work with Wikileaks should not be punished because such activity relates to conduct that investigative journalism routinely carries out in the professional sphere. Prosecuting Julian Assange for these offenses could have a deterrent effect on the right to freedom of expression, driving journalists to self-censorship to avoid prosecution.
Protect the right to freedom of expression. Ask U.S. authorities to drop charges against Julian Assange stemming only from his document publishing activities with Wikileaks. Sign our appeal to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.