A London court has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to the US to face hacking and espionage charges.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, will now decide whether Assange should stand trial in the US, where he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years.
Assange appeared by video link from Belmarsh Prison at a short hearing today at Westminster Magistrates Court in London.
Mark Summers QC, representing Assange, told the chief magistrate there was no option but to refer the case to Patel to make a final decision on extradition.
“It is not open to me to raise fresh evidence and issues, even though there are fresh developments in the case,” he said.
Summers said Assange’s legal team would make “serious submissions” to the home secretary on US sentencing practices and other matters.
Assange, who was smartly dressed in jeans, a light grey sports jacket, a shirt and a tie, spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth.
The hearing took place after the Supreme Court refused Assange an appeal against his extradition last month.
Chief magistrate Paul Goldspring issued an extradition order following today’s hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.
Goldspring told Assange: “I am duty bound to send your case to the secretary of state for a decision whether or not you should be extradited.”
Assange has the right to appeal to the High Court, but any appeal will not be heard until after the home secretary has made her decision, said Goldspring.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser first ruled in January 2022 that it would be oppressive to extradite Assange because he was at high risk of suicide.
That decision was overturned by the High Court in London after the US gave diplomatic assurances that it would provide adequate medical care and would not hold Assange in conditions amounting to solitary confinement.
Assange will remain in Belmarsh Prison until Patel makes a decision to accept or reject the extradition order. Assange’s legal team has four weeks to make legal representations.
Risk to press freedom
Speaking outside the court, Assange’s partner Stella Moris said, "The UK has no obligation to extradite Julian to USA, in fact it is required by its international obligations to stop this extradition."
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said that 16 months ago the court had decided that extraditing Assange would pose a risk to his life. .
"Now Julian's life is in the hands of Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. They need to do the right thing... to save a man's life and to stop this attack on freedom of the press," he said
Former Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn described the court’s decision as disappointing.
“Priti Patel will now have a choice: to stand up for journalism and democracy, or sentence a man to life for exposing the truth about the War on Terror,” he said.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement that the case was politically motivated and would have dangerous implications for journalism.
“The UK has an obligation not to send any person to a place where their life or safety is at risk and the Government must not abdicate that responsibility,” he said.
“The US authorities have flatly stated that they will change the terms of Assange’s imprisonment in a federal facility whenever they see fit. This admission places Julian Assange at great risk of prison conditions that could result in irreversible harm to his physical and psychological wellbeing,” she added.
If the UK government allows a foreign country to exercise extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction to prosecute a person publishing from the UK, other governments could use the same legal apparatus to imprison journalists and silence the press beyond their borders, Amnesty said in its statement.
“Extraditing Julian Assange to face allegations of espionage for publishing classified information would set a dangerous precedent and leave journalists everywhere looking over their shoulders,” said Callamard.