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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hearing on extradition to U.S. set for early 2020

The U.S. has asked that the U.K. extradite Assange to America where he is charged in connection with the publishing of classified material.

A hearing to decide whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to the U.S. has been set for February 2020, a court in London ruled Friday.

Assange, 47, the co-founder of Wikileaks, is fighting the extradition request by the United States, where the Justice Department has charged him under the Espionage Act in connection with publishing classified material. He spent seven years holed up in London's Ecuadorian Embassy before his arrest April 11 in London.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Assange with computer hacking. He is accused of helping helping former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning crack a password to access a trove of secret government documents that WikiLeaks published in 2010, which Manning provided to Wikileaks.

New charges against Assange were then added in May.

The Justice Department's superseding indictment adds 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 to a single previous count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. It accuses Assange of illegally inducing Manning to send him classified documents, some of which he published without redacting the names of confidential sources who provided information to U.S. diplomats.

However, Assange denies all the charges and should he appeal against any extradition order the February hearing may only be part of a much longer legal battle.

Assange was wanted in Britain for skipping bail in 2012, when he was under investigation in Sweden on charges of sexual assault and rape. He is in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain.

Assange had been expected to appear from prison via a video link in late May but he missed it because his lawyer said he was too ill.

Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, told NBC News that when he visited Assange on May 9, with two medical professionals specializing in the impact of torture on detainees, Assange was showing "all the signs that are typical for person who has prolonged exposure to psychological torture."

Melzer said that included "extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma."

Assange has said that the United States is trying to infringe on his journalistic freedoms.

Justice Department officials have said they do not consider Assange a journalist and that they will not target journalists.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers and other officials have said they only charged Assange with publishing a narrow subset of material that included the names of confidential sources, including people who risked their lives talking to the U.S. government.