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Grand jury meets to decide fate of WikiLeaks founder

Assange under microscope

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A federal grand jury in Virginia is meeting to decide whether to bring spying charges against Julian Assange, an attorney for the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder said over the weekend.

“We have heard from Swedish authorities there has been a secretly empaneled grand jury in Alexandria (Virginia),” attorney Mark Stephens told Al-Jazeera over the weekend, according to CNN. “They are currently investigating this.”

Assange is currently being held in solitary confinement in London as the UK considers an extradition request from Swedish authorities who want to question him regarding two alleged sexual assaults. He has indicated he will fight attempts to extradite him to that country. A hearing in London court is scheduled for Tuesday, Stephens said.

“I think that the Americans are much more interested in terms of the WikiLeaks aspect of this,” Stephens told the Middle Eastern news agency. If Assange is forcibly transferred to Sweden, authorities in that country have indicated “they will defer their interest in him to the Americans. It does seem to me that what we have here is nothing more than a holding charge.”

Stephens's comments came as the US House Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for Thursday “on the Espionage Act and the Legal and Constitutional Issues Raised by WikiLeaks.” Assange attorneys have said they expect Assange to be charged “soon” under the 1917 statute, which was enacted by Congress during World War I.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said his agency has “a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature,” related to the whistle-blower site.

No news agency has ever successfully been prosecuted under the law, but CNET provides an analysis here that suggests that if Assange is charged under the statute “his defense is likely to face long legal odds.”

The legal problems for Assange comes as his ranking for Time magazine's Man of the Year has risen above all other candidates, with the WikiLeaks founder receiving 382,020 votes, compared with 233,638 votes for the No. 2 candidate, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and 146,378 votes for pop star Lady Gaga. ®

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