The U.K. government has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. where he will face spying charges.

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel signed the extradition order on Friday, following a British judge approving the extradition in April, which left the final decision to the U.K. government.

A U.K. Home Office spokesperson said: “Under the Extradition Act 2003, the Secretary of State must sign an extradition order if there are no grounds to prohibit the order being made. Extradition requests are only sent to the Home Secretary once a judge decides it can proceed after considering various aspects of the case. On June 17, following consideration by both the Magistrates Court and High Court, the extradition of Mr. Julian Assange to the U.S. was ordered. Mr. Assange retains the normal 14-day right to appeal.”

“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,” the spokesperson added. “Nor have they found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that whilst in the U.S. he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”

U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents detailing alleged U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010 and 2011. The charges could lead to a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Assange has the right to apply to the U.K. High Court for leave to appeal against the decisions of both the District Judge and Patel’s decision to order extradition. An application must be made within 14 days of him being notified of the Home Secretary’s decision. Assange will only be surrendered to the U.S. when all avenues of legal challenge are exhausted.

WikiLeaks has confirmed that the decision will be appealed. “This is a dark day for Press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.

“Julian did nothing wrong. 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. It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise. Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence,” the statement added.

“The path to Julian’s freedom is long and tortuous. Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system, the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story be known to all,” the statement continued.

“Make no mistake, this has always been a political case. Julian published evidence that the country trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; tortured and rendered; bribed foreign officials; and
corrupted judicial inquiries into U.S. wrongdoing. Their revenge is to try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account. We will not let that happen. Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. We will fight to return Julian to his family and to regain freedom of expression for us all,” the statement concluded.

Assange has been held at London’s Belmarsh prison from April 2019.