The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed dismay over the decision by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to approve the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he faces prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act.

Assange, who has been held within the UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison since 2019, now has two weeks to appeal the decision, according to the Home Office. The cross-appeal by his legal team will open up a new chapter in the legal battle within the courts.

This new appeal would centre on the issue of his right to freedom of expression and his claims that the extradition by the U.S is politically motivated. Assange could face up to 175 years in jail if convicted on all 17 charges, according to his lawyers.

“Today’s decision by the Home Secretary to green light the extradition, though sadly unsurprising, seriously undermines press freedom and the public’s right to information and brings the extradition of Julian Assange one step closer to becoming a reality”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said.

“If this extradition is ultimately approved, Assange’s prosecution in the U.S would set a dangerous precedent for media freedom and public interest journalism, especially for reporters working on national security issues who could face being criminalized for doing their job. We again renew our call to the U.S. government to drop all charges against Assange under the Espionage Act”.

In April 2022, IPI and multiple other international press freedom groups called on the Home Secretary to block the extradition.

In March, the UK Supreme Court refused the latest appeal against his extradition, ruling there were no legal questions over assurances given by US authorities that he would not be mistreated, leaving the decision in the hands of the Home Secretary.

In a statement, a Home Office spokesperson said the decision to approve the extradition was procedural: “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.”

Assange has been charged by the U.S. government in connection with WikiLeaks’s publication of secret U.S. government documents in 2010.