WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told a British court Friday that “175 years of my life is effectively at stake,” as a judge ruled that he would face a full extradition hearing in early 2020.
At a largely procedural hearing, Assange appeared via a video link from Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of London.
Assange sported a shaggy white beard and wore a blue sweatshirt and black-framed glasses. He looked tired. His lawyers said he was receiving medical care at the prison.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court said the full extradition hearing to decide whether Assange should be sent to the United States to stand trial for espionage will take place in February next year. A handful of protesters outside the court held banners that read “Hands off Assange, Don’t Shoot the Messenger” and “1984 is so yesterday.”
Ben Brendan, the lawyer representing the U.S. government in the extradition request, said the case is “related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States.”
One of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Summer, said the extradition “represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights.”
Assange is under investigation in the United States for his role in the disclosure of a trove of secret military and diplomatic cables. He is also accused of conspiring to hack into a Defense Department computer.
In a previous hearing, Assange made it clear that he would not willingly surrender to U.S. authorities.
The Australian citizen is currently serving a 50-week jail sentence at Belmarsh prison for jumping bail when he fled to the Ecuadoran Embassy in 2012. His lawyers said Friday that he has no access to a computer or email and that court documents are sent to him by mail.
Legal analysts said that in normal circumstances, Assange would be eligible for an early, structured release after serving half his sentence. But they said this does not apply in this case because of the extradition request.
On Wednesday, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a formal extradition request from the United States. He told the BBC this week that it was now a decision for the British courts.
“We’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts,” said Javid.
Assange was initially charged with one count of conspiring with a U.S. Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning to break into a government computer. Last month, U.S. prosecutors announced 17 new charges, under the Espionage Act, for his role in the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.
WikiLeaks responded in a tweet saying: “This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”
Assange is also wanted for questioning by Swedish prosecutors over an allegation of rape, which he denies. A Swedish court recently ruled that Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for the investigation, but prosecutors could still appeal the decision.
A United Nations official who has visited Assange in Belmarsh said he showed symptoms of “prolonged exposure to psychological torture.” Assange’s prison cell is about 6 feet by 10 feet, and he is allowed three hours each day to interact with other inmates.
Assange purportedly appeared in a recent video, said to have been recorded by an inmate from Belmarsh prison, where he is seen wearing a blue sweatshirt and talking to other prisoners in a small cell with papers and books scattered on the floor. The footage was posted on RT, which has close links with the Russian government, and has a timestamp from 2017, which the broadcaster suggests could be due to an error with the recording equipment.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · William Booth, Karla Adam