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Julian Assange can be extradited to the U.S. to face spying charges, U.K. says

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The U.S. may have moved closer to getting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange back in this country to stand trial. The British government has approved his extradition to face spying charges. Willem Marx has some details for us from London. Willem, what specifically is Assange charged with?

WILLEM MARX: Well, A, U.S. prosecutors say he helped the American defense analyst Chelsea Manning in efforts to breach the U.S. Espionage Act, that he placed into the public domain classified data and information that risked the lives of U.S. informants around the world and that he was also involved in hacking efforts, successful or otherwise, by other individuals.

MARTINEZ: Now, this has been going on for a long time. Assange has been fighting for years to avoid being sent to the U.S. for trial. Is this fight to avoid coming back to the U.S. over now with this decision?

MARX: Well, let's just give a bit of background here. I mean, this has been a long legal back and forth. Last year, a British district court judge ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the United States and that it would be oppressive to do so because of his poor mental health at the time. Then the high court in London later ruled that it would be safe for him to be extradited after U.S. officials gave assurances about his treatment once he arrived inside the U.S. penal system, potentially. His lawyers appealed that decision to the U.K. Supreme Court earlier this year, where judges ended up ruling that there was no, quote, "applicable point of law," given those American assurances that should prevent his extradition.

And so at that point, the decision passed to the U.K.'s most senior law enforcement minister, the home secretary called Priti Patel. She's the one that's given this green light today. Her department said, essentially, she was obliged to sign the extradition order, but Mr. Assange would retain the usual right to appeal within the next 14 days, something his team has said he will do.

MARTINEZ: Now, did the British government offer details on why they have approved this?

MARX: Well, the Interior Ministry released a statement, quite a long one, with quite a serious length of detail in it. It said essentially that Ms. Patel had to sign the order, quote, "if there are no grounds to prohibit the order being made" - in other words, if all legal avenues through the British courts have been exhausted. Now, this statement went on to say that the U.K. courts had, quote, "not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr. Assange," and that it would not be, quote, "incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and freedom of expression."

And, A, that last point is pretty crucial because that's an area where legal experts say, when we talk about freedom of expression and that right, that's where his next appeal over the next 14 days may focus, as well as on this really interesting potential political motivations his team allege behind this extradition request. It remains to be seen when they will file this appeal, of course, in the next couple of weeks and quite what form it will take. But clearly, this has been going on for many, many years, and they will exhaust all legal avenues open to them to try and prevent him from traveling to the U.S. from the U.K., A.

MARTINEZ: Reporter Willem Marx in London, thanks a lot.

MARX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.