Julian Assange's U.S. extradition hearing set for February
WikiLeaks founder is serving 50-week sentence for jumping U.K. bail
The full extradition hearing to decide whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be sent to the United States will take place in February, a London court ruled on Friday.
The 47-year-old Assange is in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain; his legal team is appealing that sentence. He also faces questioning from Swedish prosecutors investigating a rape allegation.
U.S. officials have made clear their intention to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, blaming him for directing the 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 faces 18 charges from the U.S., including conspiracy to hack into government computers.
Assange, dressed in a grey T-shirt and wearing black-framed glasses, appeared by videolink for the short hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court. The Australian, who has been suffering from ill health in prison, appeared to be tired and showed signs of a hand tremor.
"He's currently in the health-care ward because of the significant impact on his health as a result of the long-term confinement inside the [Ecuadorian] embassy and now inside prison," one of his lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, told reporters outside the court. "He's under a huge amount of pressure and we're very concerned about him."
Ben Brandon, a British lawyer representing the U.S. government, told a court hearing Friday the case "related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States."
Dispute over U.S. hacking charge
Citing the possible maximum prison term he could face if convicted on all counts, Assange said: "One hundred and seventy-five years of my life is effectively at stake."
Assange complained about what he characterized as inaccurate reporting on his case, citing the BBC in particular, and saying the media have mistakenly reported he is accused of computer hacking.
"That's false," he told Judge Emma Arbuthnot, asserting the U.S. government has not accused him of hacking.
However, Brandon told the judge the U.S. case does include a hacking charge. The judge agreed and said it is her understanding there is a hacking charge, and suggested Assange discuss it with his lawyers.
Assange also complained he has not yet received the full U.S. indictment against him because his lawyers aren't allowed to give him documents and can only send him papers through the mail.
Arbuthnot said the paperwork only arrived Thursday and "no one" has had a chance to fully read it.
Assange asserts he is a journalist with First Amendment protections and the U.S. decision to use espionage charges against him has alarmed many free speech advocates.
Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, said the case represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights."
Robinson said the case is "an outrageous affront to journalist protections" and the indictment "will place a chilling impact and will affect journalists and publishers everywhere all over the world."
With files from The Associated Press