A British court on Wednesday approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face espionage charges.
Westminster Magistrates Magistrate Paul Goldspring delivered the verdict in a short hearing, in which Assange was seen via a video link from Belmarsh Prison, the Associated Press reported.
Assange’s supporters gathered outside the courtroom, calling for his release.
The case is now scheduled to be taken to British Home Secretary Priti Patel for a decision, despite the WikiLeaks founder having legal avenues of appeal, according to the same source.
Today’s ruling comes after the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court last March refused to give Assange permission to appeal a lower court ruling that he could be extradited.
It is noteworthy that today’s decision does not exhaust the legal options of Assange, who has sought for years to avoid a trial in the United States on charges related to WikiLeaks’ release of a huge trove of classified documents for more than a decade.
Assange’s lawyers have four weeks to submit their applications to the British Home Secretary, and can also seek to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The United States had asked the British authorities to extradite Assange so that he could be tried on 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse.
US prosecutors said Assange illegally helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files later released by WikiLeaks, putting lives at risk.
Supporters and lawyers for Assange, 50, justify that he was working as a journalist and has the right to expose the mistakes of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that the case has “political motives.”
A British District Court judge initially rejected an American extradition request on the grounds that Assange would likely kill himself if held in harsh US prison conditions.
However, US authorities later gave assurances that the WikiLeaks founder would not face the harsh treatment his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.
In December, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that US promises were “sufficient to ensure Assange is treated humanely”.
In March, the Supreme Court rejected Assange’s attempt to appeal that ruling.
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