London (Reuters): British interior minister Priti Patel on Friday approved the extradition of WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, to the United States to face criminal charges, bringing his long-running legal saga closer to a conclusion.
Assange is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks’ release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables, which Washington said had put lives in danger.
His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised because he exposed Washington’s wrongdoings in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.
His wife Stella said that Assange would appeal after the Home Office said his extradition had been approved.
“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” the Home Office said in a statement.
“Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, and that whilst in the US, he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”
Originally, a British judge ruled that Assange should not be deported, saying his mental health meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted and held in a maximum-security prison.
But this was overturned on an appeal after the United States gave a package of assurances, including a pledge that he could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.
Patel’s decision does not mean the end of Australian-born Assange’s legal fight, which has been going on for more than a decade and could continue for many more months.
He can launch an appeal at London’s High Court, which must give its approval for a challenge. He can ultimately seek to take his case to the United Kingdom Supreme Court. But if an appeal is refused, Assange must be extradited within 28 days.