In the final stage of an epic battle against extradition, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has given permission for Julian Assange to placed in the hands of the US authorities. Her decision marks a dangerous precedent for journalists and publishers, and undermines press freedom in a country once viewed as a leading force for the protection of freedom of expression.
Following a high profile campaign and various appeal stages, the UK’s Westminster Magistrates Court approved the extradition of the journalist and Wikileaks founder on 20 April. Assange has been held in a high-security prison since 2018 on charges under the United States Espionage Act.
The final decision rested with the home secretary Priti Patel, who approved the extradition on 17 June.
“The Home Office’s decision to extradite Julian Assange exposes its complicity in undermining press freedom just as the UK claims to be a world leader on freedom of expression,” said Quinn McKew, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
“It also sends a worrying message to the world that journalists, activists and anyone who exposes important truths about crimes – including those committed by governments and businesses – do not deserve protection for their rights to impart information and speak freely. ARTICLE 19 urges Priti Patel and the UK government to reverse this decision.”
Extraditing Assange has been seen by human rights groups as an act of hypocrisy, given the UK’s status as a founding member of the Media Freedom Coalition. Set up in 2019, the coalition vowed to ‘advocate for media freedom and safety of journalists and hold to account those who harm journalists for doing their job’.
The decision is the UK government’s latest blow to freedom of expression and human rights. Only in the past few months, the government has introduced its plans for the Public Order Bill which will criminalise protest, announced details of its plans to replace the the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights and pressed on with the implementation of the Online Safety Billl, which will pose a significant threat to digital rights and free expression online.