Assange refuses extradition to US; long legal fight expected

LONDON (AP) — A defiant Julian Assange told a London court Thursday he will fight extradition to the United States to face charges of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer, arguing that his work as WikiLeaks founder has benefited the public.

Speaking by video link from Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, Assange said: "I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people."

His formal refusal to be extradited marks the start of what is expected to be a bruising legal battle over whether he will be brought to trial in the United States.

Assange, wearing jeans and a sports jacket, appeared calm during the brief hearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court. Some of his supporters who couldn't get seats in the small courtroom chanted support for Assange from the hallways, shouting "Shame on you" at the judge.

Judge Michael Snow said it would likely be "many months" before a full hearing was held on the substance of the U.S. extradition case. The judge set a procedural hearing for May 30, with a substantive hearing to follow on June 12 once a full U.S. extradition request has been received and studied by Assange's lawyers.

Legal experts predict it will likely take 18 months or longer to resolve the case, with each side able to make several appeals of unfavorable rulings.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Files
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a banner outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds banners outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Julian Assange, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks speaks via video link during a press conference on the occasion of the ten year anniversary celebration of WikiLeaks in Berlin, Germany, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears on screen via video link during his participation as a guest panelist in an International Seminar on the 60th anniversary of the college of Journalists of Chile in Santiago, Chile, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
File photo dated 05/02/16 of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will publish more confidential documents on the US Central Intelligence Agency once a "key attack code" has been disarmed, he has revealed.
File photo dated 5/2/2016 of Julian Assange who has defended the release of emails by WikiLeaks about US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been living for more than three years after the country granted him political asylum.
BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 4: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange participates via video link at a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of the secrecy-spilling group in Berlin, Germany on October 4, 2016. (Photo by Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet presents in Quito, Ecuador, on June 23, 2016 the Ecuador 's book " When Google found Wikileaks". Julian Assange made his appearance to the world in 2010 with the publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret documents revealing conspiracies , corruption, crimes , lies, and incriminate several governments and particularly the United States as the main actor illegalities. (Photo by Rafael Rodr�uez/ACGPHOTO/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange prepares to speak from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy where he continues to seek asylum following an extradition request from Sweden in 2012, on February 5, 2016 in London, England. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has insisted that Mr Assange's detention should be brought to an end. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A panel of WikiLeaks representitives and press look on as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at a press conference at the Frontline Club via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 5 February 2016 in London, England. Mr Assange's speech comes a day after it was announced that the UN panel ruled he was being unlawfully detained at the Ecuadorian Embassy. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Australian founder of whistleblowing website, 'WikiLeaks', Julian Assange speaks to media after giving a press conference in London on July 26, 2010. The founder of a website which published tens of thousands of leaked military files about the war in Afghanistan said Monday they showed that the 'course of the war needs to change'. In all, some 92,000 documents dating back to 2004 were released by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks to the New York Times, Britain's Guardian newspaper, and Germany's Der Spiegel news weekly. Assange also used a press conference in London to dismiss the White House's furious reaction to the disclosures. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 21: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Wikileaks founder Julian Assange poses during a portrait shoot on May 21, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Chew/Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
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In a separate case, the 47-year-old Australian was sentenced Wednesday to 50 weeks in prison in the U.K. for jumping bail in 2012 and holing up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. At the time, he was facing extradition to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations made by two women.

That extradition request is no longer active, but Swedish officials say the rape investigation may be revived now that Assange is no longer out of reach in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Assange says he sought asylum in the embassy because he feared being sent to the U.S. to face charges related to WikiLeaks' publication of classified U.S. military documents.

U.S. authorities accuse Assange of scheming with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break a password for a classified government computer.

Manning served several years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. She was jailed again in March after refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the secret-spilling organization.

Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing the U.S. government, said in court Thursday that U.S. investigators had obtained details of chatroom communications between Manning and Assange in 2010. Brandon said the pair had "engaged in real-time discussions regarding Chelsea Manning's dissemination of confidential records to Mr. Assange."

He said the documents allegedly downloaded from a classified U.S. computer included 90,000 activity reports from the war in Afghanistan, 400,000 Iraq war-related reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments and 250,000 State Department cables.

The U.S. charge against Assange carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, but Assange is worried the U.S. could add further, more serious allegations against him.

"The fight has just begun. It will be a long one and a hard one," said WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, who claimed Assange was being held in "appalling" conditions at Belmarsh Prison.

He said Assange was confined to his cell 23 hours a day, "what we call in general terms solitary confinement."

A few dozen WikiLeaks supporters holding signs reading "Free Assange" and "No extradition" gathered outside the London courthouse before Thursday's hearing.

Some who had waited for two hours hoping to get in were bitterly disappointed when those seats were filled by journalists and lawyers. They shouted angrily at court staff and complained they were being discriminated against for backing Assange. Some later blocked a busy main road outside the court, bringing traffic to a halt.

Assange was arrested last month in London after his relationship with his embassy hosts went sour and Ecuador revoked his political asylum.

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For more AP coverage of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, go to

https://www.apnews.com/WikiLeaks

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