By Jake Johnson | Common Dreams
A British judge on Wednesday granted formal approval to the U.S. government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces espionage charges for publishing classified material that exposed war crimes by American forces.
“The home secretary must act now to protect journalism.”
The judge’s new and widely expected procedural order, the culmination of a drawn-out legal battle, places the final decision on Assange’s extradition in the hands of U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, leaving the WikiLeaks publisher with dwindling options to fight his removal to the U.S.—where he could be hit with a 175-year prison sentence.
Patel is expected to make a final decision by May 18, after which Assange can attempt to appeal via judicial review, Reuters reported Wednesday. As Patel weighs the extradition order, Assange will remain jailed in a high-security London prison, where he has languished for years under conditions that experts have condemned as torture.
Human rights organizations wasted no time urging Patel to reject the extradition order. Allowing it to proceed, they warned, would endanger press freedoms around the world, given that the charges against Assange seek to punish a common journalistic practice.
The Espionage Act charges against Assange were originally brought by the Trump administration. Despite pressure from press freedom groups and progressive leaders across the globe, the Biden administration has opted to continue pushing for Assange’s extradition and prosecution.
“If Julian Assange is extradited to the U.S., journalists around the world will have to look over their shoulders if they are publishing information that is detrimental to U.S. interests,” said Simon Crowther of Amnesty International.
Rebecca Vincent, director of operations and campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, stressed in a statement that “the next four weeks will prove crucial in the fight to block extradition and secure the release of Julian Assange.”
“We are seeking to unite those who care about journalism and press freedom to hold the U.K. government to account,” Vincent added. “The home secretary must act now to protect journalism and adhere to the U.K.’s commitment to media freedom by rejecting the extradition order and releasing Assange.”