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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears in London court for extradition hearing

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By Euronews with Reuters
A demonstrator holds a banner during a protest outside a London court, Britain, October 21, 2019.
A demonstrator holds a banner during a protest outside a London court, Britain, October 21, 2019.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Hannah McKay

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court on Monday for a hearing on whether he should be extradited to the United States to face spying charges.

Assange, cleanly shaved, dressed in a navy suit and light blue jumper, raised his fist to supporters in the public gallery.

Dozens gathered for a protest in front of Westminster Magistrates Court to express support for the activist, pictures and video posted on social media showed.

Assange, 48, faces 18 counts in the US including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.

Assange came to prominence when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables in 2010, angering Washington which said he had put lives at risk.

In 2012, he took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was accused of sex crimes which he denied, saying he believed he would ultimately be sent on to the United States.

He was dragged from the embassy in April after seven years and given a 50-week jail term for skipping bail. That sentence was completed last month but he remains in prison while his extradition case continues.

In May, WikiLeaks said it had grave concerns about Assange’s health and that he had been moved to a health ward at London’s Belmarsh high-security prison.

A previous hearing was cancelled because Assange was too ill to attend, his lawyer said.

While the focus of today's hearing was general case management, the full extradition hearing is due to start on February 25 next year.