A day after being sentenced to nearly a year in jail for jumping bail, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was back in court Thursday for a brief initial hearing on whether he should be extradited to the U.S. to face prosecution over leaking classified information.
Assange appeared by video link in the London courtroom, where his lawyers are expected to argue in further hearings in the coming months against his being sent to the U.S. The Australian native faces a charge of helping former U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning to download secret military documents that WikiLeaks then posted online.
The Westminster Magistrates Court adjourned proceedings until May 30.
Supporters of Assange protested outside the court, holding aloft banners demanding that he be freed and that the U.S.’ extradition request be denied.
Until a few weeks ago, Assange, 47, had been holed up inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London for nearly seven years. He had bolted into the embassy initially to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault. After that investigation expired because of the statute of limitations, he remained inside for fear of being sent to the U.S.
He was arrested by British police April 11 after Ecuador decided to withdraw his asylum. Officials from the South American country accused Assange of rude, aggressive and unhygienic behavior during his protracted stay inside their diplomatic mission in the upscale London neighborhood of Knightsbridge.
Assange and his backers say that he could face the death penalty in the U.S. The current charge against him is punishable by up to five years in prison, but they fear that more serious follow-up charges are being or have been prepared.
“This is where the real battle begins,” Kristinn Hrafnsson of WikiLeaks said Wednesday, after Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for jumping bail. Hrafnsson said that extradition to the U.S. would “be an outrage,” and called it “a question of life and death” for his colleague.