A hearing to decide WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to the U.S. has been set for early next year, a London court ruled on Friday.
Assange, 47, will face a five-day hearing starting Feb. 25 for revealing classified secrets and espionage. He faces 18 charges from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Speaking to the court via video link, Assange said: "One-hundred-and-seventy-five years of my life are effectively at stake."
He denied allegations of hacking, saying: "WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher."
Mark Summers QC, a lawyer representing Assange, describes the case as "an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights”. He said he would challenge the 50-week sentence in the U.K. his client is facing for skipping bail when he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Jennifer Robinson, another lawyer representing Assange, told the BBC outside the courtroom that the U.S. indictment would "place a chilling impact" on journalism and publishers across the world.
Robinson also said the U.S. was seeking to extradite Assange for “publishing truthful information about the United States, including evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse and corruption the world over".
Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in April where he had remained holed up for seven years after his asylum was withdrawn. He is currently serving a sentence in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London.
In 2012, Assange sought asylum in the embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault, which he denies. The charges were subsequently dropped.
U.S. authorities argue that Assange conspired with fellow former whistleblower Chelsea Manning in downloading classified information and publishing it online via WikiLeaks. If extradited to the U.S. and convicted, Assange could face up to 170 years in prison.
His supporters consider him a hero for exposing the abuse of power by a modern state.