Assange begins long legal battle to avoid extradition to U.S.

Assange may face extradition to Sweden as well if it reopens a rape case from one of Assange's alleged victims.

Sara Rubenstein ,

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he would not willingly surrender to a U.S. extradition request in a British court on Thursday.

"Not for doing journalism that's won many, many awards and affected many people," Assange said. The 47-year old Australian spoke by video link from the high-security Belmarsh Prison in southeast London. A day earlier, he was sentenced 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in 2012.

The hearing, which took place in front of a packed courtroom is the beginning of a prolonged legal battle against his extradition to the US, which legal experts say may take years. District Judge Michael Snow said that the first significant hearing will take place on June 12 and that a “full extradition hearing is still many months away.”

Ben Bradon, a British lawyer representing the US government said that Assange has allegedly conspired in the "largest compromise of classified information in US history."

The US is seeking Assange's extradition for charges of conspiring to hack into a Defense Department computer with US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The charge, stemming from his involvement in the 2010 release of classified US documents, filed in March 2018, has a penalty of up to five years in prison.

However, Assange is reportedly viewing this as a "life and death battle" due to his fear that he could be charged with additional crimes if extradited to the US and even face the death penalty.

Assange spent seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. Assange feared that if he was extradited to Sweden he would later be extradited to the US.

Sweden has dropped the charges since the statute of limitations expired but one of Assange's alleged victims is putting pressure on Swedish prosecutors to re-open a rape case. If that happens, Assange could be facing possible extradition to both Sweden and the US.