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Britain approves Julian Assange’s extradition to U.S.

LONDON — Julian Assange‘s extradition to the United States was approved Friday by the British government, a potentially decisive step toward the WikiLeaks founder facing espionage charges.

The U.K. Home Office said in a statement that the extradition order for Assange had been signed “following consideration by both the Magistrates Court and High Court.”

The spokesperson said Assange had a 14-day right to appeal the decision. It follows a British court ruling in April that Assange could be sent to the U.S.

“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” they said. “Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that whilst in the U.S. he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”

A decision on whether to extradite Assange had been anticipated from British Home Secretary Priti Patel this month.

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted in the U.S. to face trial on 18 charges, including breaking espionage laws, after WikiLeaks released thousands of secret U.S. files in 2010.

Supporters of Julian Assange in front of the British Home Office in London, on May 17, 2022.Li Ying / Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Assange, 50, has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the leak.

The WikiLeaks founder has spent the past three years in London’s Belmarsh prison waiting to find out whether he will be extradited.

His family and legal team have repeatedly warned of his deteriorating mental health, which they have said will be put at greater risk if he is extradited to the U.S.

In December, Washington won an appeal over Assange’s extradition in a British court, with the court ruling that a past decision against handing Assange over to the U.S. might have been different in light of fresh assurances that he would not be held under highly restrictive conditions if extradited.

The decision came as his legal team and family warned that his life could be at risk if he were to be extradited to the U.S. due to his deteriorating mental health.

Assange’s lawyers told the court that even though the U.S. had assured reasonable treatment of the WikiLeaks founder, there was still a risk that he could take his own life if extradited. They also urged the court to ignore the U.S.’s assurances that Assange would not be subjected to harsh detention conditions, known as Special Administrative Measures.

In an interview with NBC News in December, Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, said his family feared Assange would “not survive” extradition to the U.S.

“We live in fear that … Julian will not survive this,” Shipton said. “He’s been … crushed and you can really see the toll it’s taken on him over the years.”

Assange and WikiLeaks came under the international spotlight after releasing footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that had resulted in the deaths of two Reuters journalists and others.

Released under the title “Collateral Murder,” the video sparked widespread upset among Americans about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks then gained further attention in 2010 after publishing a trove of classified defense documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in an act U.S. officials said put lives at risk.

The Obama administration did not immediately indict Assange. Instead, he was charged with violating the Espionage Act under former President Donald Trump.

Chelsea Manning, a former Army member who had shared the intel with WikiLeaks, spent years behind bars after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange. She was released while the Obama administration was still in office.

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