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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States.
Patel’s decision to hand over a journalist to the US government for prosecution was immediately condemned by human rights and press freedom organizations. Assange’s legal team planned to file an appeal to the High Court of Justice questioning the political nature of the case and how the extradition law was interpreted.
Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders, called it “shameful” and said the decision represented “Another UK failure to protect journalism and press freedom, putting Julian Assange one step closer to extradition.”
The world human rights organization Amnesty International renovated his opposition. “Allowing Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States would put him at great risk and send a chilling message to journalists around the world.”
Don’t Extradite Assange, a campaign that mobilized opposition to the case in the UK, declared: “This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about free speech should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that traced his murder.”
Assange faces 18 charges brought against him by the US Department of Justice, 17 of which are under the Espionage Act. All charges relate to WikiLeaks documents released in 2010 and 2011, which were provided by US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
More than 300 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists organized under the slogan “Doctors for Assange” sent a letter to Patel on June 10 which reminded Patel of “serious concerns” related to the WikiLeaks founder’s “deteriorating health”, which worsened while in UK custody.
“In conditions where the UK legal system has not taken into account Mr Assange’s current state of health,” the doctors stated, “you or anyone else cannot make any valid decision to approve his extradition.” The doctors made it clear that extraditing a person in such compromised health was “medically and ethically unacceptable.”
They added: “If he is harmed in the US under these circumstances, it is you, Home Secretary, who will bear the responsibility for that negligent outcome.” Nineteen organizations committed to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. wrote a letter to Patel on April 22, just after the district court ordered Assange’s extradition and sent it to the Home Office for review.
“[Assange] very likely to be arrested [in the US] in conditions of isolation or solitary confinement despite US government assurances, which would severely exacerbate their risk of suicide,” the organizations warned. “[He] it could not be adequately defended in US courts, as the Espionage Act lacks a public interest defense. His prosecution would set a dangerous precedent that could be applied to any media outlet publishing stories based on leaked information, or even any journalist, editor or source anywhere in the world.”
“We ask you, Home Secretary, to honor the UK government’s commitment to protect and promote press freedom and reject the US extradition request. We ask you to release Mr. Assange from Belmarsh prison and allow him to return to his young family after many years in isolation. Finally, we ask you to make a public commitment to ensure that no publisher, journalist or source is ever arrested again in the UK for publishing information of public interest.”
The organizations demanded a meeting with Patel, but it seems that a meeting was never granted so that the defenders could air their concerns.
On May 10, Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner of the Council of Europe appealed to Patel. “I believe that the US indictment against Assange raises important questions about the protection of those who publish classified information in the public interest, including information that exposes human rights violations.”
“The broad and vague nature of the allegations against Mr. Assange and of the crimes listed in the indictment are concerning, as many of them concern core activities of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond,” Mijatović argued.
“Accordingly, allowing the extradition of Mr. Assange on this basis would have a chilling effect on media freedom and could ultimately hamper the press in carrying out its task as a provider of public information and surveillance. in democratic societies”.
Apparently, all of the pre-Patel proposals were scrapped. There is no evidence that Patel considered any complaints about the Assange case.
News of the decision didn’t even come from Patel herself. An unidentified spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior provided comments that were circulated by the UK media.
“Under the Extradition Act 2003, the Secretary of State must sign an extradition order if there are no grounds to prohibit the order from being made. Extradition requests are only sent to the Home Secretary once a judge decides that he can proceed after considering various aspects of the case.”
“On June 17, after consideration by both the magistrates’ court and the high court, Mr. Julian Assange was ordered extradited to the United States. Assange retains the normal 14-day right of appeal.”
“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unfair or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange,” the anonymous spokesman said. “Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and freedom of expression.” Furthermore, they stated that in the US his health would be properly treated.
But this was not a new statement from a department willing to take public responsibility for approving the request. It was a kind of vulgar paraphrasing of the legal criteria used as a cover to avoid defending or justifying the actions of the Ministry of the Interior.
The spokesman faithfully repeated the “assurances” presented in diplomatic notes to the UK Foreign Office by the US State Department, which stepped in after the Crown Prosecution Service and the US government. The US lost their case in district court on January 4, 2021. .
The intervention of the US Department of State played a fundamental role in saving the extradition request. The High Court of Justice relied on the assurances by overturning the district court’s decision in December 2021.
In the end, Patel and the UK government put the UK’s role as a US government client state before challenging the case. This is a role that the UK has consistently and diligently played since supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The US and UK have agreed to an unprecedented and alarming extradition request that criminalizes someone for engaging in standard newsgathering activities not only because they share the US government’s distaste for Assange, but also because UK officials value the US-UK partnership more than human rights.
Patel and the Home Office supported an expansion of the Official Secrets Laws in the UK, while the US extradition request went through the UK courts. As Mohamed Elmaazi reported for The Dissenter, the proposed expansion would make it possible for the UK government to jail “leakers, leak recipients and secondary editors, including journalists, from the current maximum of two years to 14 years in prison.”
The Home Office maintained that there was no longer much difference between “espionage and the most serious unauthorized disclosures”. The department considered journalism an act capable of “much more serious harm” than traditional espionage.
Operation Pelican, the name of the pressure campaign to force Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which was supported by the Home Office. She declassified UK lead investigator Matt Kennard. reported that Patel was on the advisory board of a CIA-linked right-wing group called the Henry Jackson Society, which has attacked Assange multiple times since 2010.
Without any significant objection within the UK government, if Assange is eventually put on a plane and flown to the US to stand trial, they, along with the US government, will bear responsibility for any tragedy that follows. occurs while you are in a US jail or prison.