UK signs order for WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange to be extradited to the US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador on May 19, 2017, in London, England.

It’s the first step in what could be a lengthy legal battle over whether the WikiLeaks founder should face prosecution for espionage and hacking.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has officially signed an extradition order to send Julian Assange to the United States. It’s the first step in what could prove to be a lengthy legal battle over whether the WikiLeaks founder should face prosecution in the United States for his actions surrounding the publication of classified materials from former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

In May, the US Department of Justice indicted Assange on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act. According to the indictment, they accused Assange of having “repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States.” The WikiLeaks chief faces up to 10 years in prison for each count of violating the Espionage Act.

He also faces a single charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the US for allegedly working with Manning to hack into a Defense Department computer to access classified Iraq War documents.

Yet there’s no guarantee he’ll ever see the inside of a US federal courtroom. The extradition order is merely the first step in the process, and Assange’s lawyers will almost certainly challenge it.

“It’s a decision ultimately for the courts,” Javid told the BBC. “I want to see justice done at all times, and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”

Assange has been a fugitive for almost a decade

As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explains, “Assange is an Australian ‘hacktivist,’ who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, with the stated goal of publishing information the powerful were trying to keep secret.” Prokop continues:

Starting in 2010, WikiLeaks published a video of an airstrike in Iraq that killed civilians, military documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and State Department cables in which diplomats gave candid assessments of foreign governments — all provided by US Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning.

In June 2012, Assange turned up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, seeking asylum from potential extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual assault. Though the charges were unrelated to the US hacking case, Assange and his supporters feared they were merely a pretext for his eventual extradition from Sweden to the US.

And for the next seven years, Assange became a long-term — and at times unwelcome — houseguest of the Ecuadorian Embassy. During that time, the statute of limitations on one of the sexual assault cases ran out; the Swedish government also chose to drop the charges on the second sexual assault case because they saw no way to proceed while Assange was in the embassy.

But in mid-April 2019, the Ecuadorian government finally had enough of Assange and kicked him out. Police in the UK promptly arrested him.

This time around, though, his immediate concern isn’t possible extradition to Sweden (though Swedish authorities say they are reopening their investigation). No, this time he’s facing an express trip directly to America to face espionage charges.

Whether he will ultimately make that trip will be up to British courts to decide. But one thing is for sure: Julian Assange’s legal troubles are far from over.

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