By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
LONDON (Worthy News) – A British court ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks website founder Julian Assange to the United States to face trial over the publication of secret files relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The decision now rests with Britain’s Interior Minister Priti Patel, although Assange may still appeal within 14 days of any decision to approve the extradition. Wednesday’s ruling by a magistrate in central London brings the long-running legal wrangling in British courts closer to a conclusion. The Australian may now face spy charges in the U.S.
Assange watched by video link from Belmarsh Prison in London as District Judge Paul Goldspring gave the extradition order in a brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
It came as a significant setback for the 50-year-old Assange and his supporters rallying outside the courthouse, demanding he be freed. Assange lawyer Mark Summers told the court that the legal team had “serious submissions” to make.
The U.S. has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.
American prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published in 2010, putting lives at risk.
Supporters and lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech. They point out that the publishing of these documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also argue that his case is politically motivated.
Assange would stand trial in federal court in Northern Virginia. If convicted, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
A British district court judge had initially rejected a U.S. extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. U.S. authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t face the severe treatment 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 U.S. promises were enough to guarantee that Assange would be treated humanely. The Supreme Court in March rejected Assange’s attempt to challenge that ruling.
Assange has been held at Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019 when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian 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 because so much time had elapsed. Last month, Assange and his partner Stella Moris married in a prison ceremony.
Moris has been a vocal campaigner for his release. Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the U.S. Yet, American authorities claim the sentence “was likely” to be much lower than that.
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