The U.S. government moved a step closer to prosecuting Julian Assange on espionage charges, after London judges accepted that the WikiLeaks chief can be extradited.
Assange will now scrutinize appeal routes, including to the Supreme Court, meaning the question of whether he is ultimately sent to the U.S. will remain open for months to come. The judges on Friday sent the case to the British government to approve his removal.
The decision reverses a lower court’s ruling that had blocked Assange, 50, from being extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges, for fear that prison conditions there would result in his suicide.
The judges accepted U.S. assurances to the U.K. that he won’t face solitary confinement or a supermax prison in Colorado if he’s jailed in the U.S. They said he can serve his sentence in Australia if convicted.
Assange, 50, has been in prison or in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, as he fought attempts to send him to face charges first in Sweden and then in the U.S.
The Swedish case against him was dropped, but the U.S. government in 2019 charged him with espionage for his role in releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents via WikiLeaks, with the help of U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Australian-born Assange is being held in London’s Belmarsh prison.
Still, U.S. officials won’t see him transferred any time soon. The first appeal route will be to the Supreme Court to consider the U.S. assurances, his lawyers said, and suggested he has other appeal options “including questions of free speech and on the political motivations of the U.S. request.”
Assange’s supporters, including his fiancee Stella Moris, have sought to argue that the ruling leaves questions about journalists’ ability to report from classified sources. WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables and emails including a video that showed a U.S. air strike that ended up killing a member of the Reuters news staff in Baghdad.
Moris said the High Court’s ruling as “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
Assange’s lawyers have said he might commit suicide in a U.S. jail, an argument that a lower court judge agreed with in January when she blocked his extradition. Assange would face “conditions of significant isolation,” Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled at the time, citing Jeffrey Epstein’s 2019 death as an example of when preventative measures weren’t able to protect inmates from self harm.
But the judges led by the Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett ruled that they could accept the American offers that Assange will be treated humanely in custody.
“Julian’s life is once more under grave threat, and so is the right of journalists to publish material that governments and corporations find inconvenient,” WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said.