A British judge finally approved Julian Assange's extradition to the United States to face spying allegations on Wednesday. Britain's interior minister will now decide the issue, and the WikiLeaks founder retains legal options.
The order, which brings extradition closer, comes after the United Kingdom's Supreme Court denied Assange permission to appeal a lower court's ruling that he might be extradited last month.
The order was issued during a brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court, which Assange observed via video link from Belmarsh Prison. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will now decide whether to sanction the extradition.
The move does not exhaust Assange's legal options, who has spent years attempting to avoid a trial in the United States on charges stemming from WikiLeaks' publishing of a massive collection of sensitive documents more than a decade ago.
His attorneys have four weeks to submit arguments to Patel and may potentially appeal to the High Court.
Mark Summers, Assange's lawyer, informed the court that the legal team had some significant comments to make.
The US has requested that British authorities extradite Assange for him to face 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse. Prosecutors in the United States allege that Assange illegally assisted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in stealing sensitive diplomatic cables and military papers that were ultimately published by Wikileaks, putting lives in danger.
Supporters and attorneys for Assange, 50, say that he was acting as a journalist and is therefore entitled to First Amendment protections for disclosing papers exposing US military misbehavior in Iraq and Afghanistan. They contend that his case is motivated by political considerations.
A British district court judge first denied a plea for extradition to the United States because Assange would likely commit suicide if confined in harsh US prison conditions. US authorities later assured WikiLeaks' founder that he would not face the severe punishment his lawyers claimed would jeopardize his physical and mental health.
In December, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling, stating that the US's assurances were sufficient to ensure Assange's humane treatment.
Assange's attorneys have stated that he may face up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the United States. However, American authorities have said that the penalty is less likely to be.
Assange has been detained at the United Kingdom's high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019 when he was arrested for failing to appear for bail in a separate legal dispute. Before that, he spent seven years in London's Ecuadorian Embassy, evading extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault charges.
Sweden halted its sex crimes investigations in November 2019 due to the passage of time.
Assange and his partner Stella Moris were married in a jail ceremony last month.