Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is one step closer to standing trial in the U.S. on Thursday, after the British Home Secretary revealed he had signed an extradition request.
“He’s rightly behind bars,” Sajid Javid told the BBC. “There’s an extradition request from the U.S. that is before the courts tomorrow but yesterday I signed the extradition order and certified it and that will be going in front of the courts tomorrow.”
Signing the extradition request is the first step in what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle between Assange’s legal team and the U.S. government. The former hacker claims the charges against him are politically motivated.
Assange is due to appear in court on Friday morning via video-link after a planned hearing last month was canceled due to his ill health. If Assange is not able to appear on video, the judge has indicated the hearing could take place in Belmarsh maximum security prison, where Assange is being held.
Friday’s hearing will be the first since the U.S. Department of Justice announced expanded charges against the former hacker, indicting Assange under the Espionage Act for unlawfully obtaining and disclosing national defense information. The U.S. is expected to give more details about those charges during the hearing.
Still, Javid’s signature of the extradition request is no guarantee Assange will ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom.
“It is a decision ultimately for the courts, Javid said. “But there is a very important part of it for the home secretary and I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”
Even if the courts decide Assange should be sent to the U.S., it will be up to Javid — or whoever is Home Secretary at that point — to make a final decision on whether to extradite the Wikileaks founder or not.
The U.K.’s decision could be complicated by a rival extradition request from Sweden, where investigators have re-opened a probe into rape allegations against Assange that date back to 2010. But that process ran into problems last week when a court in Uppsala denied prosecutors an extradition order, saying Assange did not have to be formally detained in order for him to be questioned.
Prosecutors in Sweden say they are continuing their investigation and still want to question Assange.
Assange is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence for skipping bail in 2012, when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in. This week he was visited by his father and by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
“He is in the prison hospital and his health is deteriorating,” Ai said on Twitter after his visit.
“He is grateful for the support given to him. The U.K. and Europe must defend human rights and stop his extradition to the U.S. where he faces 18 charges and up to 175 years in jail.”
Cover: Julian Assange extradition. File photo dated 11/04/19 of Julian Assange, as a United Nations official has urged the Government not to extradite him to the United States, warning that the WikiLeaks founder would not receive a fair trial after years of being subjected to "psychological torture". Victoria Jones/PA Wire URN:43227136 (Press Association via AP Images)