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The UK decision to extradite Assange

  • 19 July 2022
  The only shock about the UK Home Secretary’s decision regarding the extradition of Julian Assange was that it did not come sooner. In April, Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring expressed the solemn view that he was ‘duty-bound’ to send the case to Priti Patel to decide on whether to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 grafted from the US Espionage Act of 1917, and one based on computer intrusion.

Prior to making her June 17 decision, the Home Secretary could not claim to be ignorant of the circumstances facing the Australian publisher. In April, an umbrella grouping of nineteen organisations dedicated to the press freedom and free speech urged Patel, in reviewing the case, to appreciate that Assange would ‘highly likely’ face isolation or solitary confinement in US conditions ‘despite the US government’s assurances, which would severely exacerbate the risk of suicide’.

The letter also warned that Assange ‘would be unable to adequately defend himself in the US courts, as the Espionage Act lacks a public interest defence.’ Prosecuting him ‘would set a dangerous precedent that would be applied to any media outlet that published stories based on leaked information, or indeed any journalist, publisher or source anywhere in the world.’

On June 10, a letter from the group Doctors for Assange, comprising 300 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, noted that the Home Secretary’s ‘denial of the cruel, inhuman treatment inflicted by upon Assange was then, and is even more so now, irreconcilable with the reality of the situation’.

Unfortunately for the relentless doctors, Patel could simply point to the whittling away of the mental health defence that has been so crucial to Assange’s lower court victory in January 4, 2021.  District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, at first instance, ruled that Assange would be at serious risk of suicide given the dangers posed by Special Administrative Measures and the possibility that he would end his days in the ADX Florence supermax facility.  The implication was clear in all its starkness: the US prison system could well prove lethal.  Extraditing him, it followed, would be oppressive within the meaning of the US-UK Extradition Treaty.

'Evidently, overt politicisation, bad faith, and non-binding reassurances from the US Department of Justice on how Assange will be treated, do not constitute sufficient grounds to prevent extradition.' 

In reaching her decision, Patel could not bring herself to make a personal announcement. ‘Under the Extradition Act