Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is very close to being extradited to the United States on 18 counts of espionage and disclosure of classified information on his website, following a British court order issued on April 20 following approval by U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel.

According to the Daily Mail, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court formally issued an order to extradite the defendant this morning.

The judge, Paul Goldspring, during a short 7-minute hearing, said, “In layman’s terms, I am duty bound to send your case to the Secretary of State for a decision.”

However, the 50-year-old can still appeal, pending a final decision by the Home Secretary.

Patel has the power to refuse extradition if she so wishes, but a ruling to that effect would provoke a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Mark Summers, Assange’s lawyer, said that if convicted of the 18 charges he is likely to face up to 175 years in prison and that the legal team has “serious submissions” to make, according to ABC News.

However, the U.S. government said the sentence could be four to six years in prison, Daily Mail reported.

The Justice Department charges Assange with helping former Army data analyst Chelsea Manning illegally obtain confidential U.S. documents, which Assange then published on WikiLeaks. He also revealed the names of human sources who provided information to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. State Department diplomats, putting U.S. national security at risk, benefiting adversarial countries, and risking the lives of human sources.

Manning was arrested in 2021 and sentenced to 35 years in prison, but President Barack Obama commuted the sentence and released him, according to Fox News.

Assange has been in Belmarsh Prison in the United Kingdom for three years since he was removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He had spent seven years at the embassy, where he took refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime charges, CBN reported. 

In early 2021, Assange was not extradited to the U.S. after his lawyers argued that in a U.S. prison he would commit suicide.

Assange, born in Australia, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and described the publication as “a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents.”

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