Julian Assange extradition to the US approved by UK Home Secretary

AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is one step closer to being extradited to the United States. He spent 7 years hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London but eventually Ecuador worked out a deal that Assange would not be extradited anywhere where he might face the death penalty if he left the Embassy. But over the next year his relationship with his hosts deteriorated and in 2019, he was arrested by UK police and removed from the embassy.

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested on Thursday in London to face a charge in the United States of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network in 2010, bringing to an abrupt end a seven-year saga in which he had holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in Britain to avoid capture.

The Ecuadorean government suspended the citizenship it had granted Mr. Assange and evicted him on Thursday, clearing the way for his arrest. His hosts had displayed growing impatience, listing grievances including recent WikiLeaks releases they said interfered with other states’ internal affairs and personal discourtesies, like the failure of Mr. Assange to clean the bathroom and look after his cat.

Here’s video of him being literally dragged out. On the same day he was arrested a US indictment against him was unsealed.

Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison by a UK judge. He claimed he’d been imprisoned in the Ecuadorian embassy, a claim the judge in his case did not buy.

Judge Deborah Taylor said Assange’s time in the embassy had cost British taxpayers the equivalent of nearly $21 million, and that he had sought asylum in a “deliberate attempt to delay justice.”

Assange offered a written apology in court, claiming that his actions were a response to terrifying circumstances. He said he had been effectively imprisoned in the embassy; two doctors also provided medical evidence of the mental and physical effects of being confined.

The judge was not swayed by the arguments. “You were not living under prison conditions, and you could have left at any time to face due process with the rights and protections which the legal system in this country provides,” she said.

An extradition order was filed in April of this year and today the British Home Secretary Priti Patel agreed it could proceed.

Judges in London have already ruled that the US’s request was lawful and that the American authorities would care for him properly in prison.

Now, the home secretary has carried out her role in the complicated legal process by signing off the US request.

Her officials said she was legally bound to do so because Mr Assange does not face the death penalty – nor does his case fall into the other narrow range of categories for her to refuse to approve the transfer.

In practice, this means there is nothing to stop Washington sending a jet to pick up Mr Assange – unless he can win on appeal.

But it’s unlikely things will happen that fast. Assange is already planning to appeal.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s legal counsel, said Friday that an appeal would be brought, and that the case could ultimately be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
“This is not the end of the road, and we will use every appeal mechanism available to us to prevent this extradition,” she told a press conference…

His extradition has been the subject of numerous court dates since his arrest, which took place after Assange sought diplomatic refuge in the embassy for seven years. In January 2021, a magistrates’ court ruling found that Assange could not be extradited as it would be “oppressive,” by reason of his mental health.

But the High Court overturned that decision in December, saying Assange could be extradited on the basis of assurances given by the US government about his treatment there.

I don’t see any clear predictions about how long this next phase of the legal fight could last. I don’t think UK courts are going to ride to his rescue here so that part of it might be over fairly soon but I have no idea what the European Court of Human Rights might do or how long that appeal could drag this out.