A United Kingdom court on Wednesday formally approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, reported the Associated Press.
Assange faces 18 charges in the United States in connection with releasing five lakh secret files on American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The files were made public between 2010 and 2011. Assange is also accused of soliciting and publishing such information.
Wednesday’s order was issued by District Judge Paul Goldspring at Westminster Magistrates’ Court even as Assange’s supporters rallied outside the courthouse, demanding his release.
The case will now go to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for deciding whether to allow the extradition. However, the WikiLeaks founder has legal recourse. He can still fill appeals within 14 days after the extradition is approved, reported AFP.
Assange has four weeks to make submissions to Patel and can also file an appeal to the High Court.
His lawyer Mark Summers told the court that it was not open for his legal team to produce new evidence at this stage but there had been “fresh developments”, reported The Guardian. Summers said that he would make “serious submissions” to Patel regarding Assange’s sentencing in the US and the prison conditions there.
The UK court’s order came after the Supreme Court denied Assange’s appeal against his extradition.
In January last year, a criminal court had ruled that the Wikileaks founder cannot be extradited to the US. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser had said that extradition would be “oppressive by reason of mental harm”.
She had added that the risk of Assange committing suicide was substantial.
However, in December, the High Court allowed Assange to be extradited to the US. It had said that the US government’s assurances were sufficient to guarantee that Assange would be treated humanely, overturning the lower court’s verdict.
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the court had said. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange has been in UK’s Belmarsh Prison since April 2019, after he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
American prosecutors have argued that Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal classified military files that WikiLeaks later published. They said Assange’s actions put many lives at risk.
Supporters and lawyers for Assange have argued that he was a journalist and is entitled to the First Amendment (freedom of speech) of the US Constitution for publishing documents that exposed US’ military wrongdoings. They argued that the case is politically motivated.
The WikiLeaks founder was jailed after skipping bail in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was facing a rape investigation. The rape charges were dropped in November 2019.
Assange suffers from a respiratory ailment that makes him vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. In November 2019, 60 doctors wrote to Patel saying that Assange’s health had deteriorated so much that he might die in prison.