Julian Assange today starts his legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States where he faces the rest of his life in jail for leaking state secrets in hundreds of thousands of classified documents published online.
The WikiLeaks founder, who is being held in Belmarsh Prison, will appear in the London court next door this morning for the first day of his full extradition hearing.
His supporters have held a 24/7 vigil outside the top security jail since last September and up to 500 were protesting this morning after camping out overnight.
The 48-year-old is wanted in America on 18 charges over the publication of US cables a decade ago and if found guilty could face a 175-year prison sentence and will face off with the US government.
The Australian is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents breaking the country's espionage laws.
Assange's legal team argue his case could lead to criminalising activities crucial to investigative journalists.
Julian Assange (pictured in a prison van in April last year) today starts his legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States
Assange's father John Shipton (centre) arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London with supporters and family today
His supporters were out in large numbers outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London today
A camp has been outside Belmarsh Jail in Woolwich since Assange was sent there last year after leaving the Ecuadorian embassy after seven years
Jennifer Robinson, Assange's lawyer, says his work has shed an unprecedented light on how the United States conducted its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
'We are talking about collateral murder, evidence of war crimes,' she said. 'They are a remarkable resource for those of us seeking to hold governments to account for abuses.'
In the lead-up to the hearing, Assange has received high-profile support including from Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.
He has also been supported at previous court timetabling hearings by Rapper M.I.A. and filmmaker John Pilger.
A day before his appearance at the nearby Woolwich Crown Court, Assange's father John Shipton claimed his son had been 'harassed' by a prison cell search.
After a visit to the prison on Sunday, Mr Shipton criticised the 'plague of malice' which he said 'emanates from the Crown Prosecution Service' towards Assange.
He urged that his son be allowed bail, telling reporters: 'For the life of me I can't understand why Julian Assange is in jail having committed no crime, with family here that he can come and live with.'
He added: 'Bail ought to be given immediately if the extradition order isn't dropped.
Up to 500 demonstrators have set up camp outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, which is connected to Belmarsh Jail
There were huge queues outside court today as journalists and supporters entered Woolwich Crown Court
Assange's father John Shipton and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis leave Belmarsh Prison after visiting him yesterday
Mr Varoufakis said Assange was in a 'very dark place' due to spending more than 20 hours a day in solitary confinement and called for the extradition to be stopped 'in the interests of 300 years of modernity, 300 years of trying to establish human rights and civil liberties in the west and around the world'.
More than 40 international legal experts have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding the 'rule of law be upheld', claiming he has not had proper access to his legal team.
The letter was handed in to 10 Downing Street on Saturday and also urged the British legal community to act 'urgently' to secure Assange's release.
Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison since last September after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching his bail conditions while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
In 2012, Assange went into Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was accused of sex crimes, which he denied and which were later dropped, saying he feared he would ultimately be sent on to the United States.
After seven years, he finally left and then jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail. He has remained in prison ever since, after the United States launched its extradition request.
If the judge decides Assange should be extradited, the decision needs to be rubber-stamped by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
He would also have the right to appeal to London's High Court and then possibly to the Supreme Court, Britain's top court.Free speech martyr... or dangerous criminal? As Julian Assange's extradition is set to begin, GUY ADAMS examines the potential outcomes that may have huge implications for democracy
During his decade in the public eye, Julian Assange has shown himself to be an appalling egotist with an ugly sense of entitlement who falls out with almost everyone he meets.
At times he has reportedly displayed borderline sociopathic behaviour, made allegedly anti-Semitic statements and, it is claimed, has questionable personal habits.
But is the WikiLeaks founder also a dangerous criminal who deserves to be banged up in an American prison for the rest of his natural life? Well, the answer to that is rather more complex.
Assange, a 48-year-old Australian national, is wanted by the US Department of Justice on 18 criminal charges: 17 counts of espionage and one of computer hacking. If found guilty of them all, he could be jailed for 175 years.
In London at the weekend, in advance of Assange's extradition hearing, around 500 of his supporters gathered to protest. Others have argued he should be used as a 'pawn' in the diplomatic row over the death of teenager Harry Dunn in a road accident.
Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, in a prison van, as he leaves Southwark Crown Court in London in May last yearsonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
The US last month refused a UK extradition request for Anne Sacoolas, the CIA agent who accepted responsibility for the teenager's death but who then fled the country.
That is an unlikely development, but the Assange extradition hearing, which begins today at Woolwich Crown Court is a serious undertaking which raises important questions about free speech and human rights.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who visited Assange at HMP Belmarsh last weekend and thinks he's a heroic whistleblower, has declared it 'one of the most important and significant political trials of this