A British court has set a date early next year for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face a US extradition attempt over his role in revealing classified government and military information.
- Julian Assange will have to wait more than eight months to learn if he will be extradited to face charges in the US
- He claims the “US Government has tried to mislead the press” about WikiLeaks
- His lawyer says the case represents an “outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights”
Ben Brandon, a British lawyer representing the US Government, told a court hearing on Friday that the case “related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States”.
US officials are seeking to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, blaming him for directing WikiLeaks’ publication of a huge trove of secret documents that disclosed the names of people who provided confidential information to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot set a full extradition hearing for February 25, 2020. It is expected to last about five days.
Assange asserts that he is a journalist with First Amendment protections and is fighting the extradition attempt.
He was too ill to attend a recent hearing and appeared at Friday’s hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by video link from prison, during which he was quoted as saying “175 years of my life is effectively at stake”.
“It is important that people aren’t fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” Assange said.
“The US Government has tried to mislead the press.”
Assange also complained that he has not yet received the full US indictment against him because his lawyers are not allowed to give him documents and can only send him papers through the mail.
Judge Arbuthnot said the paperwork only arrived Thursday and that “no one” has had a chance to fully read it.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, said the case represents an “outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights”.
The 47-year-old Australian hacker is currently in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain.
His supporters hail him as a hero for exposing what they describe as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech.
He spent almost seven years holed up in cramped rooms at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he fled in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning over allegations of rape.
He was evicted by Ecuador, dragged from the embassy on April 11 and jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail.
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