April 11 (UPI) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will spend the next three weeks in a British jail before a hearing to determine whether he can be extradited to the United States to face computer hacking charges, a judge ruled Thursday.
The Justice Department unsealed the charges against Assange after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The seven-page indictment said it seeks extradition over a federal charge of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.”
The case accuses Assange of cooperating with military whistle-blower Chelsea Manning in 2010 about leaking classified military documents. If he’s convicted, Assange could spend up to five years in prison.
Assange had been at the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012, when he sought asylum to dodge sexual assault charges in Sweden. A British arrest warrant was issued at the time because he skipped bail. Authorities said he was arrested after Ecuador withdrew its offer of asylum. Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said the country’s patience for Assange “reached its limit” after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life.”
The 47-year-old journalist appeared before a Westminster Magistrates’ Court Thursday in a black suit with a beard and his hair tied back.
His attorneys said Assange jumped bail in 2012 over fears he wouldn’t have received a fair trial. The judge called Assange a “narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.” The judge found Assange guilty of breaking the conditions of his bail and ordered him to return May 2 for an extradition hearing. He will remain in custody until then.
Manning served seven years in prison for her role and was released in 2017. She was jailed again last month for refusing to testify before a grand jury.
The WikiLeaks site is also accused of leaking sensitive information from the email account of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Assange has said the source that obtained the information was not Russian, which conflicts with the view of U.S. intelligence. The Ecuadorian government cut off his Internet access after the leak.
In 2012, the Swedish government issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest in connection with sex assault charges against two women there. He denied the accusations and accepted asylum at the embassy. Sweden has since dropped the case, but Assange remained at the embassy because he feared prosecution in the United States.
WikiLeaks, the site Assange founded in 2006, expressed support for him Thursday.
“This man is a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards. He’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanize, delegitimize and imprison him,” WikiLeaks wrote in a tweet.
British officials took a different view.
“Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted.