Assange supporters rally as his lawyers urge Britain to block extradition

Demonstrators in London to protest against the extradition of Julian Assange on May 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Around 200 Julian Assange supporters rallied in London on Tuesday (May 17), as the WikiLeaks founder's wife said his lawyers had submitted arguments to Britain's interior minister urging her to block his extradition.

A British court last month issued a formal order to extradite Assange to face trial in the United States over the publication of secret files relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The decision now rests with Conservative interior minister Priti Patel, although Assange's legal team may still appeal within 14 days of any decision to approve the order.

Assange's lawyers appeared to have met a Wednesday deadline to make representations to her, and could also potentially launch further appeals on other points in the case.

"Defence submissions to Home Secretary @pritipatel have just been filed, arguing why the US extradition of #Assange must be blocked," his wife, Stella Moris, said on Twitter several hours before the protest outside Patel's ministry.

The 50-year-old's case has become a cause celebre for media freedom, with his supporters accusing Washington of trying to muzzle reporting of legitimate security concerns.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told AFP on the sidelines of the demonstration that Assange had "suffered enough" after being "deprived of freedom for more than a decade".

"He is heartened by the fact that he notices that the general public and politicians as well around the world are rallying to his support," Hrafnsson added.

'Damning for press freedom'

Protester Amaru Narvaez-Reyes, a 25-year-old actor, said Assange's extradition to the United States "would be very damning for the freedom of the press".

"It would put fear into the hearts of a lot of journalists and probably prevent a lot of important information to come to the public eye," he told AFP.

Assange is wanted to face trial for violating the US Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files in 2010.

He could face up to 175 years in jail if found guilty, although the exact sentence is difficult to estimate.

He has been held on remand at a top-security jail in southeast London since 2019 for jumping bail in a previous case accusing him of sexual assault in Sweden.

That case was dropped but he was not released from prison after serving time for breaching bail on the grounds he was a flight risk in the US extradition case.

Assange, who married Moris in jail in March, spent seven years at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid being removed to Sweden.

He was arrested when the government changed in Quito and his diplomatic protection was removed.

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