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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be extradited to the U.S. after U.K. ruling

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday came one step closer to facing charges he allegedly broke a United States spy law and conspired to hack into government computers after Washington won an appeal over his extradition in a British court.

“This is the judgment of the court,” said Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett in Friday’s ruling.

Assange’s legal team promised to appeal the decision.

Assange, 50, is wanted in the U.S. to face trial on 18 charges, including breaking espionage laws after WikiLeaks published thousands of secret U.S. files in 2010.

The WikiLeaks founder, who is currently being held at Belmarsh prison in London, has denied any wrongdoing. He was not at the hearing.

The development comes after U.S. authorities brought a High Court challenge against a ruling made in January by then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser, who said that Assange should not be extradited to the U.S. due to concerns over his mental health and a risk of suicide.

WikiLeaks and Assange burst onto the international scene with the release of footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of, among several others, two Reuters journalists. The video, which WikiLeaks released under the title “Collateral Murder,” helped feed a growing sense of unease among Americans about the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and secret practices of the military.

It gained more attention in 2010 after it published scores of confidential U.S. records, which American officials said put lives at risk.

Assange’s lawyers told the court that even though the U.S. had assured reasonable treatment if the WikiLeaks founder was extradited, there was still a risk that he could take his own life.

Assange’s lawyers urged the court to ignore assurances from the U.S. that their client would not be subject to harsh detention conditions, known as Special Administrative Measures.

Even if he was not subjected to such conditions, Assange’s lawyers said evidence heard during the original extradition hearing suggested he would be detained in “conditions of extreme isolation” that could impact his mental health.

In Friday’s ruling, Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.

Responding to Friday’s decision, Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancée, said: “We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment,” according to Sky News, which is owned by NBC News’ parent company Comcast.

Moris said she believed the ruling was “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

In a statement, Assange’s legal team confirmed that they would be seeking permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme court. The application to do so must be made in writing within 14 days.

Speaking with NBC News in a phone interview, Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, also condemned the decision.

Noting that it came on International Human Rights Day, the day the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Melzer branded the decision “disgraceful.”

“He’s actually being extradited to the U.S. based on diplomatic assurances that, really, are not worth the paper that they’re written on,” he said.

Melzer said he believed western states were looking to make an example out of Assange.

“The Western states are simply afraid of the business model of WikiLeaks, which is really enabling whistleblowing on a large unprecedented scale on the internet,” he said. “I fear this is what the states are afraid of.”

Sweden had previously sought Assange’s extradition from the U.K. over alleged sex crimes.

He was expected to be sent to Sweden in 2012, but fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he spent seven years before being forced out in April 2019 and jailed for breaching British bail conditions.

By that point, the Swedish case against him had already been dropped, but U.S. authorities demanded his extradition.

Reuters contributed.

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