LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing to face espionage charges in the United States will begin in February, an English judge ruled on Friday, reports AFP.
The whistleblower is accused by Washington of violating the Espionage Act after releasing classified military and diplomatic files in 2010 about US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, in a case that has upset defenders of press freedoms and human rights.In his first appearance since being transferred to Britain’s top-security Belmarsh prison in April after police sensationally dragged him out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London, Assange told the court: “175 years of my life is effectively at stake.”
Speaking at Westminster Magistrates Court in London via video-link from jail, and sporting a scraggly white beard, he added: “WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher.”
The 47-year-old Australian could be sentenced to 175 years in a US prison if convicted on all charges.
The US Justice Department, which submitted the formal extradition request after Ecuador terminated Assange’s seven-year asylum stay, has filed 18 counts against him. He is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence for violating bail conditions by fleeing to the embassy in 2012 when he was wanted on accusations of sexual assault in Sweden.