Julian Assange issued with order extraditing him to the US on spying charges

20 April 2022, 11:48

Julian Assange in prison van in 2019
Julian Assange in prison van in 2019. Picture: Getty

By StephenRigley

Julian Assange moved one step closer to being extradited to the United States on espionage charges following a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

After years of legal manoeuvres, the court finally issued an order to extradite the WikiLeaks founder.

It will now be down to Home Secretary Priti Patel to approve the 50-year-old's extradition to the US, where he is accused of espionage.

However, Assange’s legal team have previously said there are other parts of his appeal that had not yet been heard by the High Court and his supporters have four weeks to submit representations to the Home Secretary following today's order.

Not-for-profit group Reporters Without Borders, who are supporting Assange's case, have called on Ms Patel to "protect journalism and press freedom by refusing extradition". 

The Home Secretary has the power to reject the extradition but refusing it would go against the long-standing extradition agreement between the UK and the US, and could spark a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Today's hearing was brief, and Assange did not attend in person.

Assange’s banner-waving supporters, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and members of Amnesty International, held a protest outside the court in the build up to the hearing.

Assange is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

He has always denied wrongdoing. Assange, who married his fiancee Stella Moris last month, has been held in Belmarsh prison for three years since being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. 

Last month he was denied permission to appeal his extradition to the US. He asked the Supreme Court to allow him to challenge a December 2021 decision by the High Court, which ruled he could be extradited to America.

However, in March the Supreme Court confirmed it had rejected Assange's appeal request.  

The Supreme Court, the UK's highest court, denied his request to challenge the ruling as his application did not raise 'an arguable point of law'. 

Read More: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange denied permission to appeal US extradition

Read More: High Court reverses decision not to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to US

After the hearing, lawyers for Assange issued a statement and raised concerns about the reliance of the court on the US's guarantee regarding the prison conditions Mr Assange would be kept in, should he be extradited.

A spokesman for Birnberg Peirce Solicitors read: 'We regret that the opportunity has not been taken to consider the troubling circumstances in which Requesting States can provide caveated guarantees after the conclusion of a full evidential hearing.'In Mr Assange’s case, the Court had found that there was a real risk of prohibited treatment in the event of his onward extradition.'