The United Kingdom’s Westminster Magistrates’ court Wednesday formally ruled that the power to extradite Julian Assange to the US lies with UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. Patel will decide whether Assange will be extradited to the US for prosecution.
Starting in 2012, Assange spent seven years at the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid being tried for sexual assault in Sweden. He has been in custody in UK’s Belmarsh prison since 2019 during the pendency of the extradition proceedings initiated against him by the US.
According to US prosecutors, Assange released thousands of confidential US documents through Wikileaks in 2010, making him guilty of espionage and conspiracy. The documents include exposures of war crimes and human rights violations, which Assange believes the public had a right to know.
After two years of extradition proceedings in the UK Courts, the chief magistrate has ruled that as a matter of procedure, Patel will be required to sign an order for the extradition to take place. Assange’s attorneys have four weeks to make a case against extradition before Patel and will be given the opportunity to request a judicial review of her decision.
Last year, a lower court rejected the US extradition request fearing that Assange’s mental state in conjunction with the harsh conditions of US solitary confinement would create a severe suicide risk. This decision was overturned by the high court which found the US’ assurances to treat Assange humanely to be credible. He was also denied permission to appeal before the supreme court.
Advocates have been urging Patel to not sign the order, citing fears that if extradited, Assange could face 175 years in prison due to 18 charges. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) started a trend under #FreeAssange to stop the Home Secretary from signing the order. Other politicians have spoken out since the decision, including former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, saying that Priti Patel has a “huge responsibility” to protect free speech and journalism in the UK by releasing Assange.