UK Court Sets Assange’s US Extradition Hearing for February 2020
Assange faces an 18-count indictment that accuses him of soliciting and publishing classified information.
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.
Ben Brandon, a British lawyer representing the US government, told a court hearing 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.
Assange asserts that he is a journalist with First Amendment protections and is fighting the extradition attempt. Judge Emma Arbuthnot set a full extradition hearing for Feb. 25, 2020. It is expected to last about five days.
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.
He was too ill to attend a recent hearing and appeared at Friday's hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court by video link from prison.
The British Home Secretary Sajid Javid earlier said he has signed an extradition order that would send imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States if British courts favor the move.
The United States government had formally submitted an extradition request to the United Kingdom for Assange, a Justice Department official said on Tuesday, 11 June.
Assange faces an 18-count indictment that accuses him of soliciting and publishing classified information and of conspiring with former Army private Chelsea Manning to crack a Defense Department computer password.
That indictment, which includes Espionage Act charges, was issued by the Justice Department last month and is pending in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
The extradition request had been expected ever since US authorities first announced a criminal case against Assange. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said it was submitted to the United Kingdom.
The 47-year-old Assange was evicted on 11 April from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been holed up since 2012 after Ecuador granted him political asylum.
Assange was initially charged with a single computer crime violation on allegations that he worked with Manning to crack a government password. Some legal experts have said the additional Espionage Act charges might slow or complicate the extradition process to the extent the United Kingdom views them as political offenses and therefore exempt from extradition.
Manning, who spent seven years in a military prison for delivering a trove of classified information to Assange before having her sentence commuted by then-President Barack Obama, has been jailed for civil contempt in Virginia after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
(With inputs from the Associated Press)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.