LONDON – A London court on Wednesday ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, the last but not the last step in a long battle in British courtrooms.
The extradition order for Mr Assange, who is wanted by the United States on charges under the Espionage Act, is to be signed by British Home Secretary Priti Patel. Mr Assange has four weeks to appeal to her directly and he also has the right to refer his case to the High Court of England after it has made its decision.
The court’s ruling on Wednesday, at a brief hearing during which Mr Assange joined in on a video call from a London jail, was the latest blow to his attempts to fend off extradition. Protesters, as throughout his trial, gathered near the courtroom in central London.
The UK Supreme Court ruled this last month Mr Assange could not appeal an earlier decision that paved the way for his extradition by returning the decision to the Westminster Magistrate, who made the decision on Wednesday.
Ms. Patel will now decide whether to order extradition or deny the request, but Mr. Assange’s defense team also has the right to submit materials to her until her final decision is made. His legal team is due to do so by May 18th. The Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Assange has been charged in the United States under the Espionage Act in connection with obtaining and publishing secret government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on WikiLeaks in 2010. These files were highlighted by Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst.
Mr Assange has been waging a lengthy legal battle against his extradition his arrest in London in 2019after he spent seven years at the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid detention.
His defenders sought to portray the case as a matter of press freedom, and his extradition to the United States could cause serious problems with First Amendment rights, experts say.
“The extradition of Julian Assange would also be disastrous for freedom of the press and for the public, which has a right to know what their governments are doing on their behalf,” said Agnes Calamar, secretary general of Amnesty International.
She also said the decision puts Mr Assange “at high risk of prison conditions, which could lead to irreversible damage to his physical and psychological well-being”.