LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to appear before a British court on Monday as he fights extradition to the U.S. where he has been indicted on 18 charges, including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law.
Prosecutors say the Australian national conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. authorities want to try Assange on espionage charges that carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison over the 2010 publication of the documents.
Assange, 49, who is currently being held at a high security prison in east London, and his supporters say the leaked documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing, and argue he was acting as a journalist.
Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
The hearing began at London’s Old Bailey in February but it was postponed in April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Ahead of the hearing, Assange’s partner and mother to his two sons, Stella Moris, said in statement that he “had no access to his lawyers for six months.”
NBC News has approached the U.K.’s Home Office, which handles security and law and order, for comment on this claim.
“Two weeks ago, I was able to see him for the first time since lockdown,” Moris said. “He looked a lot thinner than on my last visit. He was in a lot of pain and his health is not good.”
Along with her sons Gabriel, 3, and his 19-month-old Max, she said she was “warned by the prison staff that if they tried to touch him the visit would be ended.”
Moris told a British morning show ahead of the hearing on Monday that she didn’t think Assange would survive an extradition to the U.S., calling it “catastrophic.”
Assange fathered the boys while he was living in London’s Ecuadorian embassy in the U.K.’s capital. He stayed there for seven years in a self-imposed exile to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was facing rape allegations.
Those charges were dropped several months after Assange was evicted from the embassy in April 2019 and arrested by British authorities.
After the case was postponed, the Justice Department issued a new indictment which said that Assange sought to recruit hackers at conferences in Europe and Asia who could provide his anti-secrecy website with classified information, and conspired with members of hacking organizations.
Although the superseding indictment does not contain additional charges beyond the 18 counts the Justice Department unsealed last year, but prosecutors said it underscored Assange’s efforts to procure and release classified information, allegations that form the basis of criminal charges he already faces.
If the courts approve extradition, the British government will have the final say.
The case comes at a delicate time for transatlantic relations as the U.K. is keen to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with U.S. after leaving the European Union.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.