London: UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed Thursday that he has signed an order following a request from the US government to extradite Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange to face charges of computer hacking before the American courts.
The senior Pakistani-origin minister said the decision now lay with the UK courts to analyse if the case meets all the tests required for Assange's extradition to the US.
"He's rightly behind bars. There's an extradition request from the US that is before the courts tomorrow [Friday] but yesterday [Wednesday] I signed the extradition order and certified it and that will be going in front of the courts tomorrow," Javid told the BBC.
"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," he said.
Assange, who faces an 18-count indictment by the US Justice Department, was too ill to appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court at a scheduled hearing last month and his next hearing is expected to take place at the high-security Belmarsh jail in London, where he is being held.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who presides over a number of high-profile Indian extradition requests including that of liquor baron Vijay Mallya and diamond merchant Nirav Modi, is due to hear the case at its next hearing on Friday.
Unlike the India-UK Extradition Treaty, the US-UK treaty involves a relatively simpler legal process for extradition as the requesting state does not require to establish an elaborate prima facie case against the accused before the British courts.
"We have received the full extradition request, which has been certified by the Home Secretary. This case is now before the courts and it would be inappropriate to comment further," a UK Home Office statement said.
The charges against Assange under the US Espionage Act accuse him of soliciting and publishing classified information and conspiring to hack into a government computer.
The 47-year-old Australian national has consistently denied the allegations and his supporters have accused the US and the UK governments of an attack on free speech.
It emerged last week that plans for an extradition request from Sweden over allegations of sexual attacks in the country had suffered a setback as a Swedish district court ruled against Assange's detention.
Swedish prosecutors had dropped their rape investigation in 2017 but reopened it after Ecuador withdrew its offer of asylum to Assange in April this year and allowed Scotland Yard to arrest him.
The Wikileaks co-founder is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for breach of his bail conditions after he spent seven years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had sought asylum.
US prosecutors had initially charged Assange with a single count of computer intrusion, but last month added 17 new counts, including controversial charges under the Espionage Act for encouraging, receiving and publishing national defence information in concert with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.