by Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took a step closer to facing criminal charges in the United States of violating spy laws and conspiring to hack into government computers after the US government won an appeal for his extradition in an English court.
US officials charge the 50-year-old Australian with 18 counts related to WikiLeaks’ release of large amounts of classified US military records and diplomatic cables that the US claims have endangered lives.
Assange’s supporters portray him as an anti-establishment hero victimized by the US for exposing the country’s mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US won an appeal against a verdict by a London judge that Assange should not be extradited because he was likely to commit suicide in a US prison.
Judge Timothy Holroyde said he was satisfied with a number of assurances given by the US about the conditions of Assange’s detention, including a promise not to keep him in a Colorado maximum security prison and that he will be transferred to Australia to fulfill the penalty if convicted.
But there are other hurdles to overcome before Assange can be sent to the US: The legal imbroglio will likely reach the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal.
Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris said the legal team representing him will appeal the decision.
“How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible to extradite Julian to the same country that conspired to kill him?” she asked. “We will appeal this decision as soon as possible.”
Holroyde said the case now needed to be referred to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court and that the leading judges would send it to the British government to decide whether Assange should be extradited.
Assange, who denies any wrongdoing, was not in court. He remains in the London high security prison in Belmarsh, where he has been staying for more than two and a half years.
US attorneys and Western security officials see him as an irresponsible and dangerous enemy of the state, whose actions have put the lives of agents named in the leaked material at risk.
Already his admirers praise him as a hero who exposed what they describe as the abuse of power by modern states and for defending freedom of expression.
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