A London court on Friday ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a five-day hearing on his extradition to the United States in February next year, The Guardian reported. Westminster Magistrates Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbunthnot ordered that a full extradition hearing should begin on February 25.
Assange faces 18 charges, filed by the United States Department of Justice, related to the leaking of classified information published by WikiLeaks. He is also accused of soliciting and publishing such information, and conspiring to hack into a government computer.
“This is related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States,” Ben Brandon, representing the United States government, said in court on Friday. “By taking steps to crack the password hash, it’s said that Assange was also attempting to illegally obtain and receive classified information.”
The advocate alleged that the documents relate to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other information on secret intelligence sources.
The 47-year-old Assange appeared by video link from Belmarsh Prison for the hearing, Sky News reported. “I didn’t break any password whatsoever,” he told the court, rejecting Brandon’s allegations.
Assange said that WikiLeaks is “nothing but a publisher”. He added that 175 years of his life was at stake, referring to a possible quantum of sentence were he to be convicted.
Mark Summers QC, the lawyer representing Assange, claimed the extradition case “represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights.”
United Kingdom Home Secretary Sajid Javid had on Thursday approved an extradition request for Assange from the United States. “It is a decision ultimately for the courts, but there is a very important part of it for the home secretary and I want to see justice done at all times,” Javid had said.
Assange’s supporters protested outside the court on Friday, holding banners and chanting “justice for Julian Assange” and “defend freedom and democracy”.
On May 1, the WikiLeaks founder was sentenced to 50 weeks in a UK prison for skipping bail in 2012, and seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He spent seven years in the embassy before being arrested in April, soon after Ecuador rescinded his asylum. On June 4, a Swedish court rejected Assange’s request to be detained in absentia in a rape case.