London (Web Desk): British interior minister Priti Patel has approved the extradition of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to the United States to face criminal charges.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks' release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables which Washington said had put lives in danger.
His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised because he exposed US wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.
The Home Office said his extradition had now been approved but he could still appeal the decision. WikiLeaks said he would.
Originally, a British judge ruled that Assange should not be deported, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted and held in a maximum security prison.
But this was overturned on an appeal after the United States gave a package of assurances, including a pledge he could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.
Patel’s decision does not mean the end of Australian-born Assange’s legal fight which has been going on for more than a decade and could continue for many more months. He can launch an appeal at London’s High Court and Supreme Court which must give its approval for a challenge to proceed. But if an appeal is refused, Assange must be extradited within 28 days.