A British judge on Wednesday formally approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States to face spying charges. The case will now go to Britain’s interior minister for a decision, though the WikiLeaks founder still has legal avenues of appeal, reports the AP. The order, which brings an end to the years-long extradition battle closer, comes after the UK Supreme Court last month refused Assange permission to appeal against a lower court’s ruling that he could be extradited. District Judge Paul Goldspring issued the order in a brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, as Assange watched by video link from Belmarsh Prison and his supporters rallied outside the courthouse, demanding he be freed.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will now decide whether to grant the extradition. The move doesn't exhaust the legal options for Assange, who has sought for years to avoid a trial in the US on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse related to WikiLeaks' publication of a huge trove of classified documents more than a decade ago. His lawyers have four weeks to make submissions to Patel, and can also seek to appeal to the High Court. Assange lawyer Mark Summers told the court that the legal team had "serious submissions" to make. Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the US, though American authorities have said the sentence was likely to be much lower than that.
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 that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t 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 that Assange would be treated humanely. The Supreme Court in March rejected Assange's attempt to challenge that ruling. (Assange got married in March.)