- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2019

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange now has slightly more than eight months to prepare his case against extradition to the United States.

Proceedings held in a British court Friday concluded with a full extradition hearing for Mr. Assange being set to start on February 25, 2020. It is anticipated to last about five days.

The Department of Justice charged Mr. Assange last month with 18 criminal counts related to WikiLeaks and its acquisition and publication of classified material provided to the website in 2010 by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, including mostly violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, each punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

“This indictment is a direct attack on free speech and a direct attack on journalists and publishers. It should be a matter of grave concern for all media organizations and free speech groups,” said Jennifer Robinson, an attorney for Mr. Assange.

“We would certainly hope that no journalist or publisher would be extradited under these circumstances,” Ms. Robinson told reporters outside Westminster Magistrates Court. “But of course it’s a very long road ahead and we’ll have to wait to see what happens.”

Mr. Assange, a 47-year-old Australian native, has spent the better part of the last decade dodging extradition, including roughly seven years within the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He was expelled on April 11 and immediately arrested by British police at the request of U.S. authorities, who recently formalized an extradition request subsequently authorized by U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

“I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts,” Mr. Javid told BBC Radio this week.

Manning, 31, admittedly provided WikiLeaks with a trove of sensitive documents later released by the website, including hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic cables and reports detailing U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other material. She served seven years in military prison for related convictions prior to receiving a commutation of sentence from President Obama.

Manning was recently jailed again after being found in contempt for refusing to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks.

Mr. Assange has been charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking for allegedly attempted to help Manning crack a password that could have allowed her to access additional documents potentially desirable to WikiLeaks. He is the first person to be charged under the Espionage Act for publishing material in the statute’s 102-year history, for which he faces 17 counts related to allegedly soliciting, receiving and releasing classified information.

Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing the U.S. in the proceedings, said the indictment against Mr. Assange “is related to one of the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States,” Sky News reported.

“It is important that people aren’t fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” Mr. Assange told the court Friday, according to Reuters.

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