The US wants WikiLeaks publisher imprisoned for 175 years Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange, speaking to supporters outside the Royal Courts Of Justice in London, during the two-day hearing in the extradition case of the WikiLeaks founder. Picture date: Tuesday February 20, 2024. © Yui Mok/Getty Images

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday, where Julian Assange faced a two-day hearing on his possible extradition to the US.

Assange, 52, has been held in the Belmarsh maximum security prison in England since 2019, when Ecuador revoked his asylum at American insistence. The US wants him on 17 charges of espionage tied to the WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department and Pentagon files in 2010.

“The world is watching,” Assange’s wife Stella told the activists. “They just cannot get away with this. Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth.”

She accused the US of abusing the legal system to “hound, prosecute and intimidate all of you” and argued that the US “plotted to murder” her husband – referring to revelations that the CIA sought to kill Assange in 2017, when he sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

“What’s at stake is the ability to publish the truth and expose crimes when they’re committed by states,” Stella Assange added.

Protesters carried Australian flags and signs that said “Free Julian Assange” and “drop the charges.” They chanted “US, UK, hands off Assange” and “There is only one decision – no extradition,” among other slogans.

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This week’s hearing will decide whether Assange will be allowed to appeal the 2022 decision by the UK government to extradite him to the US. His attorneys have argued that the extradition would amount to punishment for political opinions and violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The outrageous part of the UK’s years-long ‘trial’ to condemn Julian Assange to die in an American dungeon is that the victim of his ‘crime’ (journalism) is a state rather than a person–the definition of a political offense, which the US-UK extradition treaty explicitly forbid,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said on X (formerly Twitter).

If the appeal fails, Assange will apply to the European Court of Human Rights and seek a Rule 39 order to stop the extradition while it considers the case, Stella Assange has said.

The Australian-born publisher had requested to appear in court personally, but was unable to do so due to poor health, according to his lawyers.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published the US military’s Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries,” as well as a trove of State Department cables. One of the videos, later known as “collateral murder,” showed a US helicopter killing 11 people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. Suspecting the Swedish “sexual assault” case was a pretext for the US to arrest him – correctly, as it later emerged – Assange sought asylum in Ecuador, which has no extradition treaty with Washington. He spent the next seven years in the country’s embassy in London, blocked from leaving by the British authorities. (RT)