LONDON : HUNDREDS of supporters of Julian Assange marched through London on Saturday to pressure the UK government into refusing to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States to face spying charges.

Famous Britons, including  Pink Floyds, Roger Waters, Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood joined the crowd protesting the US espionage charges against the founder of the secret-spilling website. An extradition hearing for Assange is due to begin in a London court on Monday.

WikeLeaks spokesman Kristian Hrafnsson told a rally outside Parliament that that the precaution of Assange represented a dark force against [those] who want justice, transparency and truth.''

US prosecutors have charged the 48-year-old Australian computer expert with espionage over WikiLeaks publication of hundreds of of thousands of confidential government documents. If found guilty, he could be sentenced up to 175 years in prison.

American authorities say Assange conspired with  US Amy Intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to  hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange argues he acted as a journalist and is therefore entitled to First Amendment protection. He also maintains the documents exposed wrongdoing and protected many people.

Civil liberties groups and journalism organisations, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, have urged the US to drop the charges, saying that he set a chilling precedent for freedom of the press.

More than 40 jurists from the UK, the US, France and other countries published a letter asking the British government to reject the extradition request. They accused the US of extra-territorial  overreach in seeking to prosecute an Australian who was based in the UK.

Assange is currently incarcerated in London's high-security Belmarsh Prison, having previously spent seven years inside the Embassy of Ecuador.

He holed up in the South American country's UK diplomatic mission in 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden to face questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations.

That case has since been dropped. [AP]


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