A British court has set the date for WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to face a US extradition attempt early in 2020. Last week, the UK’s home secretary Sajid Javid approved an extradition request from the US for the 47-year-old Australian hacker, over his role in revealing classified U.S. government and military information. “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,” Javid said on Thursday.
On Friday, the judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court set the date of the full extradition hearing for Feb. 25, 2020. As reported by the NY Post, the hearing is slated to last about five days and interim hearings are expected in July and again in October.
U.S. officials want to try and prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, charging him for WikiLeaks’ publishing of a vast number of secret documents that divulged the names of people who provided confidential information to American and coalition forces. US prosecutors allege that he conspired with former US Army private Chelsea Manning to obtain the sensitive material, which comprised of State Department diplomatic cables and documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange faces 18 charges from the US, including conspiracy to hack into government computers. Ben Brandon, a British lawyer representing the American government, told a hearing, that the case “related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States.”
Assange is now in Belmarsh Prison in London, serving a 50-week sentence for breaking bail in Britain. His legal team is appealing that sentence. He also faces questioning from Swedish prosecutors investigating an allegation of sexual assault.
Assange has reportedly been suffering from poor health in prison and was not well enough to appear at his last hearing in London. He appeared in court via video link. He looked tired and showed possible signs of a hand tremor. Referencing the maximum prison term he could face if he is convicted by the US on all counts, Assange said: “One hundred and seventy-five years of my life is effectively at stake.” He defended his position saying he is “nothing but a publisher.” Assange maintains that he is just a journalist, and should be protected by the free speech rights of the First Amendment. The US decision to use espionage charges would repudiate those rights. Mark Summers, Assange’s lawyer, says the case represents an “outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights.”
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