2-day court hearing in London will decide if Assange is extradited to the U.S. A hearing in a London court will determine whether Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States. Might the the WikiLeaks founder soon face espionage charges in an American courtroom?

2-day court hearing in London will decide if Assange is extradited to the U.S.

2-day court hearing in London will decide if Assange is extradited to the U.S.

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A hearing in a London court will determine whether Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States. Might the the WikiLeaks founder soon face espionage charges in an American courtroom?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

London's High Court begins weighing Julian Assange's fate today.

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

The two-day hearing will determine whether the Wikileaks founder will be extradited to the U.S. to face spying charges. This case goes back to the 2010 publication of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer is at our bureau in London and joins us now. Good morning, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So bring us up to speed on Julian Assange. I mean, I have this image of him on a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he was taking refuge for years. Where is he now?

FRAYER: He was there. Now he's in a high security prison here in London - Belmarsh Prison. And he's been there for the past five years. Before that, he was - your memory serves you correctly - in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Here's a recap. In 2010, Assange was arrested here in London at the behest of Sweden, where two women had accused him of rape and sexual assault. He jumped bail in that case, took refuge in that Ecuadorian embassy. After seven years, the Ecuadorians evicted him, and he was arrested by the U.K. for breaching that bail. Now the Swedish charges have since been dropped, but in the meantime, the U.S. has charged him with 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse.

FADEL: Oof, lots of twists and turns there.

FRAYER: Yeah.

FADEL: I mean, OK, so this goes back to Chelsea Manning and her leak of U.S. military files during the Iraq war, right?

FRAYER: Exactly. So Chelsea Manning was a U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad. In early 2010, she leaked hundreds of thousands of secret files to Wikileaks, which shared them with media organizations and published them. And this was one of the biggest security breaches in the U.S. military ever. It included this now-infamous, then-classified video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed about a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists.

FADEL: Yeah, of course I remember that video really well. It became an important story for the public to know. You and I were both based in Baghdad at the time. Chelsea Manning...

FRAYER: Yeah.

FADEL: ...Went to prison, and her sentence was commuted by then-President Obama. But the case against Assange still remains.

FRAYER: It does. And it actually could have implications for media like you and me. Assange's lawyers say he is a publisher. Reporters Without Borders and other press freedom groups say this case sets a dangerous precedent for journalists to be charged with espionage for work that they do that's in the public interest. Now, Assange's lawyers also say they're concerned about his health. Last week, I interviewed Assange's wife, Stella Assange. She is a lawyer whom he married in 2022 while in prison, and they have two children together. Here's what she had to say.

STELLA ASSANGE: Well, it's impossible to describe what we've been through. And Julian's life is at stake in a bogus case that criminalizes journalism.

FRAYER: She says her husband is at risk of suicide, and he is obsessed with this idea that the CIA wants to kill him, so he doesn't want to be transferred to the U.S.

FADEL: So let's talk about exactly what the U.K. court will decide in the next couple of days.

FRAYER: Yeah, there are two U.K. judges who are deciding whether Assange can appeal an extradition order that has already been signed by the U.K. government. So the U.K. is not weighing whether Assange is a journalist. They're only weighing whether he can be extradited safely. The question of guilt or the validity of his defence will be decided at a U.S. trial if that happens. So after two days of arguments today and tomorrow - the judges could announce their decision tomorrow night. It could take a couple of weeks. Assange's wife told me, though, that she's not optimistic, and she thinks he could actually be on a plane to the U.S. within days.

FADEL: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

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