The US government has won its appeal against a court decision that halted the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
The case will now go back to the Westminster Magistrates Court where the extradition request would need to be sent to the UK Minister of Interior, Priti Patel for review.
Assange can still request permission for a final ruling on Friday's verdict from the UK's Supreme Court. The 50-year-old has been in custody since April 2019, when he was sentenced to 50 weeks behind bars.
He was ordered to remain in custody pending the outcome of the High Court's decision over concerns he would abscond. He has spent more than two years jailed in Belmarsh maximum-security prison.
Before the 2019 sentence, he was hauled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by British authorities after his citizenship was revoked.
Assange's fiancee, Stella Moris, said their legal team would appeal "at the earliest possible moment," while saying it was a "grave miscarriage of justice."
Before proceedings, Moris expressed hope that he would be home for Christmas in a post on Twitter. "I hope the High Court will bring this abusive and vindictive extradition to an end today so that our children will be able to spend Christmas with their father."
Court decision slammed
Rights groups have been quick to voice their disapproval at the court's decision. Nils Melzer who is the special rapporteur on torture at the United Nations told DW he was disappointed, especially with Friday marking International Human Rights Day.
“Its disappointing of course, especially to get such disastrous news on International Human Rights Day, because this judgement clearly goes against anything the universal declaration of human rights stands for.”
Melzer said he had personally investigated Assange's case and said there had been gross rights violations: "Throughout the last decade his human rights have been violated systematically at all stages of every legal proceeding he has been exposed to."
The UN experts also suggested that Assange's legal team highlight press freedom and human rights violations by cross-appealing January's ruling.
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns for Reporters without Borders, told DW that if the US were to successfully prosecute Assange, it could have consequences for other publications too.
"The problem is if you go after a publisher in this way — and Julian Assange would be the first publisher pursued under the US Espionage Act in this way — that same precedent could be applied to any mainstream media outlet."
"Others could find themselves in the same situation, including the various media outlets that publish stories based on these documents by WikiLeaks."
Vincent added that a prosecution would have "long-lasting implications for journalism and press freedom in the US, the UK and internationally."
Why is the US seeking extradition?
The Australian is wanted on 18 charges in the United States and faces a maximum 175-year sentence if convicted.
The charges are related to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US government also alleges that he helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the 2010 documents before exposing confidential sources around the world.
Manning was pardoned by former President Barack Obama at the end of his second four-year term. But she remained in jail from May 2019 until December 2020 for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
Assange and his lawyers have long argued that the protracted case against him is politically motivated.
His supporters also see him as a journalist who shone the light on possible war crimes.
A life in custody
Before Assange's US extradition hearings began in the UK, he spent seven years at Ecuador's Embassy in London to avoid facing sexual assault allegations in Sweden that were later dropped.
While living in the embassy, Assange fathered two children with Moris, who was a member of his legal team. In November, he was granted permission to marry Moris in Belmarsh prison.
July saw Assange spend his 50th birthday behind bars, and it was then that he found out that US authorities were continuing to pursue extradition.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as an Australian citizen Assange was "free to return home" once the legal cases against him have been concluded.
US authorities said if Britain agrees to extradite Assange, he could serve any potential prison sentence in Australia.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Nils Melzer's position. We apologize for the error.
kb/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)