British Home Secretary Priti Patel has agreed to Julian Assange’s extradition, which had previously been ordered by a court. After years of dispute and many ambiguities, the Wikileaks founder is thus to be extradited to the USA. According to his wife Stella Morrisson, however, he intends to appeal.
Years of dispute between the UK and the US
The court ruling and Patel’s agreement was preceded by a years-long dispute between the UK and the US. Assange is accused of endangering the safety of U.S. whistleblowers by publishing classified material on U.S. war operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This interpretation of the Wikileaks activity is contrasted with that of Assange as an investigative journalist who has uncovered war crimes. Accordingly, Assange, like Edward Snowden, is considered a whistleblower who has uncovered wrongdoing.
In addition to the accusations on the part of the U.S., there have been allegations of rape against Assange in the past. Assange evaded an arrest warrant from Sweden and an ordered extradition by fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he lived for a total of seven years. After his arrest in 2019, the Swedish public prosecutor’s office began an investigation into the matter, which was, however, discontinued. At the same time, however, the U.S. made public a previously secret indictment against Assange, so he remained detained. In addition, there were accusations from the British authorities: Assange had violated bail conditions by fleeing.
In January 2021, Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London initially did not agree to extradite Assange to the United States. The reason given was the expected prison conditions and the risk of suicide. The USA appealed, whereupon the decision was overturned in December 2021. Following an extradition ruling in April 2022 and the approval now given by the Interior Minister, the only obstacle to extradition is the 14-day objection period. Assange intends to appeal, according to Morrisson – which, if the appeal is allowed, would allow the case to proceed.
Negative signal for press freedom?
Morrisson sees the decision as a negative signal for democracy and press freedom. Numerous journalism associations concur with this interpretation. For example, Frank Überall, head of the German Journalists’ Association, called on the U.S. authorities to drop the charges against Assange, saying, “Wikileaks exposed and made public U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq about which victims, survivors and the entire world public needed clarity.” Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, also strongly criticized the decision, saying it puts Assange at great risk and could be seen as a chilling signal for journalism around the world.
Meanwhile, the German government expressed caution: the decision was not yet final and the further course of events would be monitored, a government spokesman said.