Robert HARNEIS  -TDO - (FRANCE) - After a seven-year struggle, Australian journalist Julian Assange is to face extradition proceedings to the United States. A decision on whether he will face charges under the Espionage Act will not come until the end of February 2020 at the earliest, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court ruled on Friday. A five-day hearing has been listed.

At the preliminary hearing Assange denied the allegation by Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States that he had amongst other things cracked a US defence password, saying: “I didn’t break any password whatsoever.”

The WikiLeaks publisher told the court that “175 years of my life is effectively at stake,” according to Sky News. He addressed the judge as Lady Arbuthnot, saying: “WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher.”  Mark Summers, a lawyer representing Assange, told the court there are a “multiplicity of profound issues” with the extradition case. “We say it represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights,” he said.

Assange spoke to the court via video link from Belmarsh prison where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail on a Swedish sexual assault investigation.  Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid onward extradition from Sweden to the United States. He was arrested on April 11 when Ecuador allowed British police to enter the embassy.

The British home secretary signed the extradition request from the U.S. on Wednesday. Sajiid Javid said Thursday: “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.”

Assange’s Belmarsh sentence for jumping bail will end at the end of March 2020, meaning he will remain in the maximum-security prison until the extradition hearing. At the time Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy there were no charges from the US but he claimed they were secretly in preparation and that the allegation of rape was just an excuse to detain him for extradition. Events have proved him right.

In the present rocky state of British international relations there was never any chance that the UK government would defy Washington. However it is less sure that British judges will go along with handing a journalist over to the tender mercies of the US legal system merely for doing his job and revealing war crimes the United States would have preferred to keep hidden.

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