UK government approves Julian Assange extradition to the US to face hacking and espionage charges | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack


The UK government has approved the extradition of embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to stand trial on espionage charges.

Assange faces 18 charges in the US, where he is accused of conspiring to hack US government computers and breaching the Espionage Act when WikiLeaks published a trove of confidential military and diplomatic documents in 2010, which the US says broke the law and endangered lives. He faces up to 175 years in prison if he is convicted.

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On Friday, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signed the extradition order after it was approved by the UK Supreme Court in April.

The Home Office said the courts found extradition would not be “incompatible with his human rights” and that while in the US “he will be treated appropriately”.

WikiLeaks said it would challenge the order, and Assange’s lawyers have 14 days to lodge an appeal.

“Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system,” WikiLeaks said in a statement, adding that it was in Patel’s power to “do the right thing.”

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England.

“This is a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy.

“Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the home secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.”

“We’re not at the end of the road here,” Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, added in a statement. “We’re going to fight this.”

Background

Assange is wanted in the US on allegations of a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

US prosecutors say Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst, to hack into US government computers to acquire the classified information that was later published by WikiLeaks.

The US asserts that the release of those documents endangered lives, damaged national security and aided its adversaries.

Assange has sought to claim ‘journalist’ status and First Amendment free speech protections for publishing the classified information. But US prosecutors are alleging the WikiLeaks founder helped Manning crack a password which allowed her to gain access to classified information that she otherwise would not have been able to leak.

Assange’s defence team have also claimed the publication of classified documents exposed US wrongdoing and were in the public interest.

Assange’s recent activity

Assange has been held at the high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London since 2019 after being removed from the UK’s Ecuadorian embassy for breaching bail conditions.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the Ecuadorian Embassy on December 20, 2012 in London, England. Mr Assange has been living in the embassy since June 2012
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the Ecuadorian Embassy on December 20, 2012 in London, England. Mr Assange has been living in the embassy since June 2012

He had entered the building in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.

After his arrest and removal from the embassy, he was charged with a federal count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for his alleged role in what the US called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.

The US applied for his extradition, and in June 2019 outlined a further 17 charges against Assange relating to the Espionage Act. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, although the US government has said he would likely face a sentence of between four and six years.

Assange ‘at risk’

Responding to the news that the UK government has certified Assange’s extradition to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act, Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International Secretary General said: “Allowing Julian Assange to be extradited to the US would put him at great risk and sends a chilling message to journalists the world over.

“If the extradition proceeds, Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Assange faces a high risk of prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill treatment. Diplomatic assurances provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken on face value given previous history.

“We call on the UK to refrain from extraditing Julian Assange, for the US to drop the charges, and for Assange to be freed.”



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