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LONDON (Reuters) – The full extradition hearing to decide whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should be sent to the United States to face accusations including spying charges will take place in February next year, a London court ruled on Friday.

A demonstrator holding a placard protests outside of Westminster Magistrates Court, where a case hearing for U.S. extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is held, in London, Britain, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Assange, 47, faces 18 counts in the U.S. including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.

“It is important that people arent fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” said Assange, who appeared by videolink from a London prison, dressed in a grey T-shirt and wearing black-framed glasses.

“The U.S. government has tried to mislead the press,” he told Westminster Magistrates Court.

As Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States, ran through a summary of the charges against him including that he had cracked a U.S. Defence network password, Assange said: “I didnt hack anything.”

Australian-born Assange came to prominence when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, angering Washington which said he had put lives at risk.

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His supporters hail him as a hero for exposing what they describe as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech.

He spent almost seven years holed up in cramped rooms at the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he fled in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning over allegations of rape.

He was dragged from the embassy on April 11 and jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail.

The United States has since charged Assange with numerous offences including espionage, saying he unlawfully published the names of secret sources and conspiring with ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain access to classified information.

Brandon said Assanges actions had been dangerous and “by publishing the unredacted material Mr Assange created grave and imminent risk that many intelligence sources, including journalists, human righRead More

RT