Who is Julian Assange and what did he publish?

FILE-Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Julian Assange’s lawyers appeared in court Tuesday to stop him from being sent to the United States to face spying charges for publishing classified documents in 2010. The WikiLeaks founder has been fighting to avoid extradition for over a decade. 

Assange didn't appear in court Tuesday with his lawyers telling a judge that the 52-year-old is in poor health. His attorneys also claim that American authorities are trying to punish him for exposing criminal acts by the U.S. 

The Australian citizen faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse, according to the Associated Press. 

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Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange made a name for himself as a computer programmer, but he was arrested and pleaded guilty to hacking in 1995. He was fined and avoided prison time, and later attended Melbourne University and studied mathematics and physics, Reuters reported. 

Assange founded WikiLeaks, a website known for publishing classified and confidential documents, in 2006. In April 2010, the website gained notoriety after it published a classified video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, Reuters noted. The site also published thousands of U.S. classified documents in 2010. 

In 2022, the British government ordered Assange to face spying charges. 

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What did he publish?

American prosecutors accused Assange of helping former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later leaked in 2010. 

The site released 90,000 classified U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan, and roughly 400,000 secret U.S. files on the Iraq war. The two leaks were the largest security breaches of their kind in U.S. military history, according to Reuters. 

Manning served seven years in a military prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of messages and cables to WikiLeaks, before being released on the order of then-President Barack Obama.

In 2022, Assange’s attorney Jennifer Robinson asked President Joe Biden to drop the charges brought against Assange during Donald Trump’s presidency, arguing they posed a "grave threat" to free speech.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in jail if he is convicted in the U.S., though American authorities have said any sentence is likely to be much lower than that, the AP noted. 

If the judges rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition.

When did Julian Assange's legal troubles start?

Assange has been held in a London prison since he was arrested in 2019 for skipping bail over a different legal matter.  Prior to his jail stint, Assange spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. 

In August 2010, Swedish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Assange after a woman accused him of rape and another woman accused him of molestation. Assange denied the allegations. The warrant was later withdrawn with prosecutors citing insufficient evidence for the rape allegation. 

Years later, Sweden dropped the sex crimes probe in November 2019 because time expired, but British judges have kept him in prison pending the outcome of the extradition case. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  This story was reported from Washington, D.C.