The announcement was as predictable as it was feared by supporters of Julian Assange: this Friday, the British Secretary of State for the Interior, Priti Patel, signed the order for the extradition of the founder of WikiLeaks to the United States. The decision is subject to appeal.
Twelve years of legal saga
Provisional epilogue, therefore, of an astounding legal saga that began almost twelve years ago, between the opening of the investigation by a Virginia grand jury into the activities of WikiLeaks and the accusations, in Sweden, of sexual violence brought against the Australian – which he has always denied, and which are now time-barred. Saga whose last chapter opened in April 2019 with the arrest of Assange by the London police, in the Embassy of Ecuador, an arrest quickly followed by an extradition request issued by the United States. Incarcerated in the high security prison of Belmarsh, east of the capital, the leader of WikiLeaks, soon to be 51, is the subject of 18 charges across the Atlantic: one is under the law on computer crime, the other 17 on the Espionage Act. And this, for having obtained and divulged, in 2010 and 2011, hundreds of thousands of classified documents: US army reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables, documents on Guantánamo prisoners. So many publications carried out, at the time, in partnership with major media around the world.
Washington notably accuses Assange of having “incited” Chelsea Manning, the source of the 2010 publications, to seize confidential documents, and to have “endangered sources” of the American administration. What the Australian defense team strongly disputes. He faces a total of up to 175 years in prison.
Mental health alerts
Assange had however, in January 2021, seen the threat of extradition recede. Certainly, the trial judge, Vanessa Baraitser, had swept aside the arguments of her lawyers on the journalistic nature of her activities, the nature “Politics” charges, the risk of an unfair trial. But she had granted the alerts on the very degraded mental health of the founder of WikiLeaks, and on the risk that he would commit suicide if he were to be imprisoned on American soil. “The mental state of Mr. Assange, she had decided, is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
But eleven months later, on appeal, the High Court of Justice validated the “insurance” presented by Washington, on the conditions of detention that would be those of Assange, or on the psychological care that would be provided to him. The Australian’s lawyers tried to challenge this decision before the British Supreme Court, but the latter refused to take up the appeal, considering that it did not raise, according to the established formula, “a point of law of general public importance”. As a result, on April 20, the Westminster Magistrates Court formally authorized Assange’s extradition, handing the case over to the ultimate decision maker in the matter, Priti Patel.
She had until June 20 to make her decision. In the meantime, the WikiLeaks leader’s team of lawyers have filed their arguments on the desk of Eta’s secretary. Several human rights NGOs have again given voice, such as Amnesty International or Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which, alongside the European and international federations of journalists, called on Patel to refuse extradition. Without success.