Assange Faces US Extradition Hearing in London
By Staff, Agencies
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday faces his first British court hearing since the US submitted a formal extradition request on espionage charges that have upset defenders of press freedoms and human rights.
The 47-year-old Australian is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence for violating bail conditions in 2012 when he was wanted on accusations of sexual assault in Sweden.
The hacker was sensationally dragged out shouting from the Ecuadoran embassy in London by British police in April after Quito terminated his seven-year asylum stay.
Washington says Assange violated the Espionage Act by releasing a vast trove of classified military and diplomatic files in 2010 about US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The initial revelations about civilian casualties and embarrassing statements made by US officials about foreign leaders were published in coordination with newspapers such as The New York Times and The Guardian.
Those stories carefully redacted the names and personal details of US operatives and local informants whose lives could have been imperiled by their identities' release.
But WikiLeaks eventually found the arrangement too confining and published the entire load of unedited cables and video files -- hundreds of thousands in all -- on its website.
None of the 18 charges against Assange relate to his site's publication of emails that alleged Russian agents stole from the Democratic Party during Donald Trump's triumphant presidential election campaign.
"WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said two days after Assange's arrest.
"It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is -– a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," he said.
Assange could be sentenced to 175 years in jail if convicted on all charges.
Assange himself might speak briefly by video link but is not expected to appear in person at Friday's largely procedural hearing.
The case is likely to last months as there are multiple opportunities for appeal.