Britain’s Supreme Court on Monday denied WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange permission to appeal the decision to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges.
The court said it rejected it because the case “did not raise an issue of law.”
Assange, 50, has been seeking to avoid prosecution in the United States for years over multiple allegations related to the publication of WikiLeaks, a vast archive of classified documents more than a decade ago.
The case is now expected to be formally referred to British Home Secretary Preity Patel, who will decide whether to grant extradition.
A British district court judge initially rejected an extradition request to the United States on the grounds that Assange could commit suicide if held in strict US custody. U.S. authorities later assured that the founder of WikiLeaks would put his physical and mental health at risk, and his lawyers said he would not face serious treatment.
In December, the High Court overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that US commitments were sufficient to guarantee that Assange would be treated humanely.
Monday’s news narrowed Assange’s options, but his defense team could still try to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. Nick Vamos, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s extradition service, said Assange’s lawyers may want to challenge other points he lost in the original district court decision.
Assange’s US-based lawyer Barry Polak said on Monday it was “extremely disappointing” that Britain’s Supreme Court had refused to hear the appeal.
“Mr. Assange will continue the legal process to fight his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for disclosing true and newsworthy information,” he said.
Assange’s British lawyer, Bernberg Pierce Solicitors, said they could submit a decision to the Home Secretary within four weeks before making a decision.
U.S. prosecutors say Assange illegally helped U.S. military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later leaked, putting his life at risk.
But Assange’s supporters and lawyers argue that he works as a journalist and is entitled to the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech for disclosing documents that expose US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their allegations are politically motivated.
If convicted, Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison in the United States, although U.S. authorities say the sentence could be much shorter.
Assange has been held in Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested for evading bail during a separate legal battle. Earlier, she spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual harassment.
Sweden dropped the sex offender investigation in November 2019 because too much time had elapsed.
Assange’s partner Stella Morris, with whom he has two young children, said on Sunday that they had been allowed to marry in prison later this month.