LONDON – A London court on Wednesday ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, the latest but not the final step in a long-running battle in British courtrooms.
The extradition order of Mr Assange, which is being requested by the United States in connection with charges under the Espionage Act, must be signed by the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Mr Assange has four weeks to to appeal directly to her.
The court’s ruling, handed down at a brief hearing in which Assange called in via video call from a London prison, was the final blow to his efforts to fend off his extradition. Protesters gathered, as they have done during his legal battle, outside the courtroom in central London.
The British Supreme Court ruled last month that Assange could not appeal a previous decision that paved the way for his extradition.
Ms. Patel will now decide whether to order the extradition or deny the request, but Mr Assange’s defense team also has the right to make its comments before its final decision is made. His legal team has until May 18 to do so. The Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr Assange was charged in the United States under the Espionage Act for obtaining and publishing classified government documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on WikiLeaks in 2010. Those files were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former military analyst. intelligence agency.
Mr Assange has waged a protracted legal battle against his extradition following his arrest in London in 2019 after being locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years in an attempt to avoid detention.
His defenders have tried to present the case as a matter of press freedom, and his extradition to the United States could raise major concerns over First Amendment rights, experts say.
“The extradition of Julian Assange would also be devastating to freedom of the press and to the public, which has a right to know what their governments are doing on their behalf,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
She also said the decision put Mr Assange “at great risk of prison conditions that could result in irreversible damage to his physical and psychological well-being.”