What did Julian Assange do? Who is WikiLeaks founder and Supreme Court extradition case explained

The WikiLeaks founder is being held in Belmarsh Prison following a lengthy battle to avoid being extradited

The Home Secretary has signed an order to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, it was announced on Friday (17 June).

WikiLeaks called it a “dark day” for press freedom and British democracy.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The Australian is being held at Belmarsh prison in London after mounting a lengthy battle to avoid being extradited.

This is everything you need to know.

Who is Julian Assange?

Assange is an Australian editor, publisher and activist, best known as the founder of WikiLeaks, which was created in 2006. WikiLeaks was a non-profit organisation which published classified information provided by anonymous sources - it claimed to be a platform for whistleblowers.

Assange was born in Queensland and began hacking as a teenager - when he was in his mid-20s, Assenge pleaded guilty to 24 charges of hacking and related crimes in Australia, and had to pay $2,100 in fines.

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

While Assange studied programming, mathematics and physics at Central Queensland University and the University of Melbourne, he did not earn his degree in film. In 1993, he used his computing skills to aid the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit to prosecute individuals behind publishing and distributing child pornography.

WikiLeads and Assange became the subject of global interest in 2010, when a series of leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was published on the platform.

The leaks in question contained 75,000 documents which related to the war in Afghanistan, and roughly 390,000 army field reports relating to the war in Iraq.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the press outside Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court on February 24, 2011 in London, England (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Following the leaks, the US government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and in November of 2010, an international arrest warrant was issued by Sweden against Assange over allegations of sexual misconduct.

At the time, Assange claimed that the accusations were a pretext in order to extradite him to the US.

In December of that year, Assange gave himself up to British authorities, where he attended his first extradition hearing. At the second hearing, Assange was granted bail. He went on to take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after a court ruled that he should be extradited to Sweden.

He stayed there for nearly seven years before serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching his bail.

Since then, he has been held on remand at Belmarsh prison fighting extradition to the US.

Where is he being held?

Assange has been held on remand at Belmarsh prison since serving his 50 week jail sentence for breaching his bail. He has been there for almost three years.

Belmarsh is a Category-A men’s prison, which is the most serious category for prisoners.

Prisoners held at Category-A prisons are defined as: “Those whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or national security.

HMP Belmarsh is a Category-A prison (Photo: HOLLIE ADAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

“Offences that may result in consideration for Category A or Restricted Status include: attempted murder, manslaughter, wounding with intent, rape, indecent assault, robbery or conspiracy to rob (with firearms), firearms offences, importing or supplying Class A controlled drug, possessing or supplying explosives, offences connected with terrorism and offences under the Official Secrets Act.”

Current inmates at Belmarsh also include Wayne Couzens and Stephen Port.

Why is he wanted in the US?

Assange is wanted in the US based on 17 charges relating to the obtaining and disclosure of US defence information, and one charge of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack into a government system.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation against Assange in 2019, with the Swedish Prosecution Authority stating that Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson made the decision to “discontinue the investigation”.

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The reason for this was because “the evidence [had] weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question”.

Persson said: "I would like to emphasise that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events.

"Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation."

What’s going on with his Supreme Court extradition battle?

Home Secretary Priti Patel has signed an ordered to extradite Assange to the United States, it was announced on Friday (17 June).

A 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.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel (Photo by Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

“On 17 June, following consideration by both the Magistrates’ Court and High Court, the extradition of Mr Julian Assange to the US was ordered. Mr Assange retains the normal 14-day right to appeal.

“In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange. 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 US he will be treated appropriately, including in relation to his health.”

What has Stella Assange said?

Responding to the news, Assange’s wife, Stella, told the PA news agency: “The Home Secretary has approved sending Julian to the country that planned to murder him. Julian has exposed US government criminality.

“The Home Secretary is condoning not only the criminality committed by the US government against Julian, but also those US government crimes exposed by WikiLeaks.

“Julian is a political prisoner. We will use every avenue to appeal this decision. I will dedicate every waking hour to fight for justice until he is free.”

Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, delivers a speech in front of the Home Office building (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A WikiLeaks spokesperson also said: “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.

“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.

Protesters gather outside the Home Office to Demand Julian Assange’s Immediate release on May 17, 2022 in London, England (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“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.

“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 US 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.”