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Britain approves Julian Assange's extradition to U.S.

The WikiLeaks founder can appeal the order, a move that would extend the yearslong legal battle he has been waging to avoid being sent to the U.S. to face trial.

LONDON — The British government approved Julian Assange's extradition to the United States on Friday, a decisive step toward the WikiLeaks founder facing trial on espionage charges.

The Home Office said in a statement that the extradition order for Assange had been signed by Priti Patel, the U.K.'s home secretary, giving him 14 days to appeal the decision. Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson told a news conference he would do so.

The WikiLeaks founder has been waging a yearslong legal battle to avoid being sent to the U.S. to face trial on 18 charges, including breaking espionage laws. He has spent the past three years in London’s Belmarsh prison waiting to find out whether he will be extradited.

“In this case, the U.K. courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr. Assange," a Home Office spokesperson said. "Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights.”

A decision on whether to extradite Assange had been anticipated from Patel after a British court ruling in April that he could be sent to the U.S.

Assange is wanted by U.S. authorities in relation to WikiLeaks’ release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables, which Washington said had put lives in danger.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

If convicted, Assange, 50, could face a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.

Supporters and lawyers for him argue that he was acting as a journalist and that he cannot get a fair trial in the U.S.

On Friday, his family vowed to keep fighting for him.

“Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle,” his wife Stella Assange said in a statement.

The British government's decision marked “a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy,” she added.

“Julian did nothing wrong,” she said. “He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.”

Assange's appeal would include new information not previously taken to the courts, including claims made in a report last year of plans to assassinate him, his brother Chris Shipton told Reuters.

He said it would include “information on how Julian lawyers were spied on and how there were plots to kidnap and kill Julian from within the CIA.”

He was referring to a Yahoo News report from September 2021 on alleged U.S. plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange when he was holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

He spent seven years living there to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped those investigations in November 2019.

The CIA has declined to comment on the Yahoo report.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said Friday that extraditing Assange “would put him at great risk and sends a chilling message to journalists the world over.”

Washington won an appeal over Assange’s extradition in a British court in December, with the court ruling that a past decision against handing him over to the U.S. might have been different in light of fresh assurances that he would not be held under highly restrictive conditions if extradited.

His family and his legal team have repeatedly warned of his deteriorating mental health, which they have said will be put at greater risk if he is extradited to the U.S.

Assange and WikiLeaks came under the international spotlight after releasing footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that had resulted in the deaths of two Reuters journalists and others.

Released under the title “Collateral Murder,” the video sparked widespread upset among Americans about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks then gained further attention in 2010 after publishing the classified defense documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as on detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration did not immediately indict Assange. Instead, he was charged with violating the Espionage Act under former President Donald Trump.

Chelsea Manning, a former Army member who had shared the intel with WikiLeaks, spent years behind bars after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange. She was released while the Obama administration was still in office.