WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition from the UK to the United States has edged a step closer after magistrates formally issued an order paving the way for him to face espionage charges.
British home secretary Priti Patel will now be responsible for deciding whether to approve the extradition after a protracted legal battle.
An extradition order was issued by chief magistrate Paul Goldspring during a seven-minute hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.
Mr Goldspring said: “In layman’s terms, I am duty bound to send your case to the Secretary of State for a decision.”
Outside the court, scores of supporters gathered, holding placards reading “Don’t extradite Assange”.
The extradition may yet be further delayed by an appeal.
Assange (50) was not present in court physically, although he watched the administrative proceedings by video-link from Belmarsh Prison.
He appeared to form a heart shape with his hands during part of the hearing.
He is wanted in America over an alleged conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information following WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
His legal team claimed the publication of classified documents exposed US wrongdoing and were in the public interest.
They said the prosecution was politically motivated and that he faces up to 175 years in jail.
Assange, who married his fiancée, Stella Moris, last month, has been held in Belmarsh prison for three years since being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Mrs Assange was in the public gallery for the hearing.
Noise from the supporters could be heard outside the courtroom.
Among them was former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who told those assembled: “He’s done absolutely no more than telling the truth to the world.
“We will carry on campaigning.”