UK court sets Assange's US extradition hearing for February 2020

British judge schedules full extradition hearing next year for WikiLeaks founder wanted in US on espionage charges.

    Demonstrators hold placards as they protest outside of Westminster Magistrates Court in London [Hannah Mckay/Reuters]
    Demonstrators hold placards as they protest outside of Westminster Magistrates Court in London [Hannah Mckay/Reuters]

    The full extradition hearing to decide whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be sent to the United States will take place in February next year, Westminster Magistrates Court in London ruled on Friday.

    Assange, 47, is accused by US authorities of conspiring to hack US government computers and violating an espionage law.

    He is currently in a London prison after being jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail after fleeing to the Ecuadorean embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault investigation.

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    He was too ill to attend a recent hearing and appeared at Friday's hearing by video link from prison.

    Ben Brandon, a British lawyer representing the US government, told the court hearing that the case "related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States".

    Assange invokes First Amendment

    Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, said the case represents an "outrageous and full-frontal assault" on journalistic rights.

    US officials have made clear their intention to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, blaming him for directing 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 asserts that he is a journalist with First Amendment protections.

    Reporting from London, Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull said the full extradition hearing next year could last five days. 

    "That decision itself could be appealed by either side leading to potentially another lengthy judicial process. It is at least many months before Julian Assange will have to answer any of the charges put to him by the US Department of Justice in a US court," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies