Early on Thursday UK home secretary Sajid Javid revealed that he has signed a US extradition request for Julian Assange, putting the WikiLeaks founder a step closer to facing prosecution for espionage and hacking on American soil, where he's almost assured life in prison or worse after the US justice department filed 17 new charges against him following the initial May count of conspiring with Chelsea Manning (totaling 18 counts).
But first a lengthy legal battle will likely ensue while he's held at London's maximum security Belmarsh prison on skipping bail. The extradition order, which was expected, is the first step in the process. The home secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today on Thursday:
He’s rightly behind bars. There’s an extradition request from the US 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.
Among the 18 US counts include charges under the Espionage Act, which could potentially bring the death penalty; however, Assange's lawyers can use the potential for a capital crimes case hanging over him in the US to argue British law prevents his extradition to American soil (according to the "Extradition Act 2003").
The UK was expected to weigh the option of extraditing him to either Sweden or the US, but last week a court in Upssala declared he did not need to be detained by Swedish authorities.
Javid further said:
“It is a decision ultimately for the courts, 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.” He added, “so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”
Concerning the timeline of what comes next, The Guardian cited a UK extradition lawyer, Thomas Garner, who described Javid’s certification of the request as “an important though merely procedural step” to initiate the extradition process.
“I would expect the court to set a preliminary timetable for the extradition process tomorrow,” he said. “It is likely to be many months before any hearing at the magistrates court and of course either side may then seek to appeal that decision in due course. Despite this, the Swedish authorities will be monitoring the process carefully as the further down the line the US proceedings get the harder it might become for the home secretary to give precedence to any competing request.”
Meanwhile, in a story which has barely penetrated US mainstream press, the 47-year-old Australian has reportedly been very sick — too ill even to appear for a key hearing at Westminster magistrates court in relation to the US request last month. His supporters have argued that he's been blocked from full and proper medical care while being unlawfully detained — this after spending almost seven years inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London.