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What is Wikileaks and where is Julian Assange?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is due in court at the Old Bailey in London on 4 January, where a judge will decide whether to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges.

Assange, 49, from Townsville, Australia, has been charged by the US with several counts of conspiracy and espionage after he obtained and published thousands of classified documents.

He was arrested in London in April 2019 after seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in the English capital for more than six years.

Assange had been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 after losing his battle against extradition to Sweden on charges of rape and sexual assault.

In May 2019, Assange was charged under the US Espionage Act of 1917 on 17 counts for publishing classified material provided to him by then US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

Assange is the first publisher to be charged under the act, according to AlJazeera.

He has also been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, after he was alleged to have hacked into a government computer. He could face a maximum of five years in prison related to that charge.

A decision on Assange’s extradition to the US to face the 18 charges is expected on 4 January. If convicted in the US, Assange could face up to 175 years in prison.

What is Wikileaks?

Wikileaks is a whistleblower news site that publishes classified material and media that is provided to them by anonymous sources.

Assange founded Wikileaks in 2006, but the whistleblower site rose to prominence in 2010 when it released sensitive military material passed to them by Ms Manning.

The material included a 39-minute video of a US military helicopter firing and killing more than a dozen Iraqis. Two Reuters journalists were killed as part of the incident.

The video led to a global outcry about the US’ actions in Iraq and its overall military presence in the Middle East.

In July 2010, Wikileaks, alongside other news organisations, leaked close to 100,000 documents related to the US’ military actions in Afghanistan.

The whistleblower site then leaked close to 400,000 documents related to the Iraq war a few months later. Both leaks were praised as they exposed a high number of civilian casualties in the Middle East that were not previously reported.

Wikileaks also published more than 250,000 diplomatic cables dated between 1996 and 2010, that provided insights into more than 270 US embassies around the world.

The site has continued to leak classified documents, material and communications over the years since, but caused controversy after leaking materials related to then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The organisation has also been criticised for failing to protect the privacy of individuals, after leaks revealed social security numbers and other private information not related to the leaks.

Where is Assange?

Julian Assange has been held in Belmarsh prison, located in Thamesmead, London, since April 2019.

Assange was arrested in April 2019 after the Ecuadorian government reached an agreement to expel him from the embassy and into the custody of the UK authorities.

The country’s president Lenín Moreno said that Assange’s asylum was withdrawn after he violated international conventions on domestic interference during his time at the location.

He was arrested inside the embassy on 11 April 2019 by the Metropolitan Police, in connection to his refusal to surrender to the court for extradition to Sweden in 2012 to face two allegations of rape. Sweden dropped the charges and ended its investigation in November 2019.

On 1 May, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment in Belmarsh prison for violating the conditions of his bail in 2012, and has been held there ever since.

Assange initially appealed the sentence, but subsequently dropped his appeal in July 2019. He has been kept in prison following his initial sentence, as he awaits to find out if he will be extradited to the US to face the espionage charges.

His hearings related to his possible extradition to the US were delayed as the defence asked for more time to prepare its case, due to complications surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Assange has only left Belmarsh prison to attend court hearings related to his extradition case, but could leave on 4 January after the judge decides on his fate.

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