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Julian Assange’s U.S. Extradition Hearing Is Set for February

Category: Europe,World

LONDON — A British court on Friday set February 2020 as the date for the full extradition hearing on whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, should be sent to the United States to face a slew of charges, including several under the Espionage Act.

Mr. Assange, 47, appeared by video link from Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London for his first hearing since the United States formally requested his extradition. He had skipped a previous hearing because, his lawyer said, he was too ill to appear. Some experts, including a United Nations official, said he had exhibited signs of a deteriorating physical and mental condition.

Mr. Assange’s hearing came days after Britain’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, signed the extradition request from the United States and expressed his support for Mr. Assange’s detention.

“He’s rightly behind bars,” Mr. Javid told BBC’s Radio 4.

Protesters holding signs that read “Hands off Assange” outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Friday denounced Mr. Javid’s decision and demanded Mr. Assange’s release. If the court rules in the United States’ favor, the extradition process is expected to be a long and complicated one.

Prosecutors from the United States had initially charged Mr. Assange with a single count of computer hacking, and said he had conspired with the former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer network, a crime punishable by up to five years in an American prison.

But in May, prosecutors added 17 charges to the list, including violating the Espionage Act, a move that has raised profound First Amendment issues. Most of the new charges were related to obtaining the secret document archives as opposed to publishing them, Justice Department officials said. But some worry it could set a precedent to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism.

The charges stem from Mr. Assange’s purported involvement in a 2010 leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, mostly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that proved damaging and embarrassing for the United States and its allies.

In a brief court appearance on Friday, Mr. Assange, wearing glasses and a gray T-shirt, denied cracking a Pentagon network password as prosecutors read out the accusations against him, according to Reuters.

“It is important that people aren’t fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” Mr. Assange told the court. “The U.S. government has tried to mislead the press.”

Mr. Assange is serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain and is still appealing that sentence. He was removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in April and promptly arrested, seven years after first seeking refuge there to avoid extradition in a Swedish investigation into allegations made in 2010 by a woman who said Mr. Assange had sexually assaulted her.

Last month, Sweden announced it would be reopening the investigation into allegations of rape. A Swedish court has ruled that Mr. Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for the investigation, though he would still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain.

That decision removed the potential for dueling extradition requests from the United States and Sweden, at least for now.

Outside the courtroom on Friday, Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Mr. Assange, said her client was being held in the hospital’s health care ward and “continues to suffer the permanent and difficult adverse health impacts” of his long-term stay in the Ecuadorean Embassy, and now in prison.

“He’s under a huge amount of pressure, and we are very concerned about him,” she told reporters.

Last month, a United Nations expert on torture said that an examination of Mr. Assange showed an alarming deterioration in his mental and physical state, and that he was suffering from psychological torture as a result of the cases brought by Britain, Sweden and the United States.

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and ill treatment, Nils Melzer, said in an interview that Mr. Assange was “extremely jumpy and stressed.”


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