WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a step closer to being extradited to the United States following an order by a United Kingdom court.
With Assange supporters gathered outside, the Westminster Magistrates’ court in London formally issued an order on Wednesday to extradite the Australian to the US to face spying charges for publishing a trove of classified information more than 10 years ago.
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The order will now go to UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who will decide whether to approve the extradition.
While the move brings Assange closer to facing the US charges, his legal options have not yet been exhausted. His lawyers have four weeks to make submissions to Patel. If she approves the extradition, Assange can also try to challenge the decision by judicial review, in which a judge will examine the legitimacy of a public body’s decision.
The order comes after the UK Supreme Court last month refused Assange permission to appeal against a lower court’s ruling that he could be extradited.
Following the most recent order, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, told the court that the legal team had “serious submissions” to make.
Assange watched the latest proceedings by video link from Belmarsh Prison, where he has been held since 2019 when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.
Prior to that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 after the statute of limitations ran out.
US prosecutors allege Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk. He faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.
Supporters and lawyers for Assange, 50, have argued that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue that his case is politically motivated.
A British district court judge had initially rejected a US extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh US prison conditions. US authorities later provided assurances Assange would not face the severe treatment that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.
In December, the High Court overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that the US promises were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely.
Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the US, although authorities have said the sentence was likely to be much lower than that.