The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has revealed he has signed a request for Julian Assange to be extradited to the US where he faces charges of computer hacking.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Javid said: “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.”
Javid’s decision opens the way to the court sending the WikiLeaks founder to the US. Assange faces an 18-count indictment, issued by the US Department of Justice, that includes charges under the Espionage Act. He is accused of soliciting and publishing classified information and conspiring to hack into a government computer.
Javid 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, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”
The 47-year-old Australian was too ill to appear last month at a hearing at Westminster magistrates court in relation to the US request. The hearing has been rescheduled for Friday, and depending on Assange’s condition, may take place at Belmarsh prison where he is being held.
Javid’s decision follows news last week that an attempt to extradite Assange to Sweden had had a setback after a court in Uppsala said he did not need to be detained.
The ruling by the district court prevented Swedish prosecutors from applying immediately for an extradition warrant for Assange to face an allegation of rape dating back to 2010. Assange denies the accusation.
Assange is serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for skipping bail after he spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London attempting to avoid extradition to Sweden
Swedish prosecutors dropped their rape investigation in 2017 but reopened it after Ecuador rescinded its offer of asylum to Assange in April this year and allowed British police to arrest him.
Thomas Garner, an extradition lawyer at Gherson Solicitors, said Javid’s certification of the request was “an important though merely procedural step” to start 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.”