Julian Assange is set to face an extradition hearing in a London court on Friday after Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid revealed he has given the legal green light for proceedings to go ahead.
The WikiLeaks founder faces charges of computer hacking in the United States after his whistleblowing website published, among other revelations, leaked videos of US troops opening fire on civilians in Iraq.
Javid on Thursday said that Assange was “rightly behind bars”.
“I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts,” he told the BBC broadcaster.
But the home secretary adding his signature to the US request was “a formality”, Nick Vamos, the former head of extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service, told Al Jazeera.
“That is an entirely separate question from whether the request will be granted, which is a matter for the court based on the various tests and bars set out in the Extradition Act 2003, which includes that extradition has to be compatible with Mr Assange’s human rights,” said Vamos, now a partner at Peters & Peters Solicitors.
Last month, a UN human rights expert said Assange showed “obvious” signs of psychological torture.
Javid’s green light is only the next stage in the judicial process, legal experts told Al Jazeera, and ultimately, the decision would come back to the home secretary.
Hannah Hinton, an extradition specialist at Drystone Chambers told Al Jazeera: “If, and only if, the court decides to send the case to the secretary of state at the end of the legal process would the secretary of state then decide whether it is appropriate to order Mr Assange’s extradition.”
Javid had “an obligation” to consider whether the US request was legal, said Benjamin Seifert, a specialist extradition barrister at Temple Garden Chambers. “It does not mean he is taking a personal stance relating to the extradition of Julian Assange,” he told Al Jazeera.
“At the end of the proceedings Mr Assange would be able to appeal the decision of the home secretary. When he was last before the courts, pursuant to a European arrest warrant from Sweden, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Assange faces 18 charges in the US, including conspiring to hack into a government computer. US officials say he unlawfully published the names of classified sources and conspired with and assisted former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to classified information.
Prosecutors in Sweden are also seeking his extradition to face a 2010 allegation of rape, which he denies.
Earlier this month, a Swedish court rejected a request to arrest Assange in absentia, dashing prosecutors’ hopes of having him swiftly extradited.
The Uppsala District Court, in a ruling in early June, said the fact that Assange was currently in prison in Britain meant he did not need to be formally arrested and held under Swedish law to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors.
The Australian is currently in Belmarsh prison in southeast London, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail. He may appear from prison via video-link for Friday’s hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
In 2012, Assange sought asylum in Ecuador’s UK embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over the sexual assault allegations. He has long claimed the allegations were a pretext for possible extradition to the US and he stayed under Ecuador’s diplomatic protection for seven years.
After a change of leadership in Quito, his asylum was revoked and he was ejected from the building in April 2019. The British police were invited to enter the embassy and he was subsequently arrested.