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A British judge has formally approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US to face spying charges. The order must now be cleared by the UK interior minister.
A UK court has issued a formal order to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face trial over the publication of classified documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The case will now go to British Interior Minister Priti Patel for a final decision. If she approves the extradition, Assange's lawyers can still appeal to the High Court.
The US has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial over a trove of secret diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published online in 2010. He faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse.
American prosecutors allege Assange unlawfully helped US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the classified documents that were later published, putting lives at risk.
Assange denies any wrongdoing. His supporters allege the case against him is politically motivated. They argue he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to the right to freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed US military misconduct during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Wednesday's decision comes after the UK Supreme Court last month denied Assange permission to appeal against a lower court's ruling that he could be extradited.
Assange's lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the US, although authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much lower.
In January last year, a British district court rejected a US extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself under harsh US prison conditions.
But the US government appealed, providing assurances that the WikiLeaks founder would receive appropriate care and would not be kept in solitary confinement. In December, the High Court sided with the US, finding that promises from American authorities were sufficient to ensure Assange would be treated humanely.
The 50-year-old Australian citizen has been held at the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019. Before that, he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. Sweden dropped its investigations in November 2019 because too much time had passed.
Assange married his partner Stella Moris in a prison ceremony last month.
nm/wmr (Reuters, AP)