LONDON (REUTERS) - WikiLeaks' Julian Assange on Friday (Dec 10) moved a step closer to facing criminal charges in the United States for breaking spying law and conspiring to hack government computers after Washington won an appeal over his extradition in an English court.
US authorities accuse Australian-born Assange, 50, of 18 counts relating to WikiLeaks' release of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables which they said had put lives in danger.
His supporters cast Assange as an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised by the United States for exposing US wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US won an appeal against a ruling by a London District Judge that Assange should not be extradited because he would likely commit suicide in a US prison.
"The court allows the appeal," Judge Timothy Holroyde said.
The judge said he was satisfied with a package of assurances given by the US about the conditions of Assange's detention including a pledge not to hold him in a so-called "ADX" maximum security prison in Colorado and that he would be transferred to Australia to serve his sentence if convicted.
But further hurdles remain before Assange can be sent to the US: the legal wrangling is likely to go to the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal.
His fiancee, Ms Stella Moris, said his legal team would appeal the decision.
"How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible, to extradite Julian to the very country which plotted to kill him?" she said. "We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment."
Judge Holroyde said the case must now be remitted to Westminster Magistrates' Court with the direction judges send it to the British government to decide whether or not Assange should be extradited.
Assange, who denies any wrongdoing, was not in court. He remains in London's high-security Belmarsh prison, where he has been for more than two and a half years.
WikiLeaks came to prominence when it published a US military video in 2010 showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
It then released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables.