The US Justice Department has filed an official request to UK authorities to extradite WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, American media reports. The journalist could face more than 170 years behind bars.
Assange was initially charged in the US with a single count of computer intrusion over his work with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. However, the US introduced 17 more indictments under the WWI-era Espionage Act over “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense.” All of the charges combined carry a maximum sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
Assange was arrested by the UK authorities mid-April, after he spent over six-years under asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. After the country ended his asylum, UK police dragged the journalist out of the diplomatic mission, subsequently prosecuting him for skipping bail back in 2012. Assange was handed an unusually long sentence – nearly a year – for such a petty offence, and is now being held at Belmarsh maximum security prison.
Aside from the US, Assange is also wanted by Sweden, after a case accusing him of non-consensual sex was recently reopened. Last week, however, a Swedish court denied the prosecution request to arrest the journalist in absentia. Assange’s legal team, for its part, insists that the ultimate goal of the Swedish case against him is to get the journalist extradited to the US.
WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday that the Justice Department will “present the evidence in support of their extradition demand” in court on Friday. Assange himself is not expected to attend the upcoming hearing, but could take part via video link from prison.