Assange's disclosures on WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents has infuriated the Pentagon, embarrassed U.S. State Department diplomats and energized critics of American foreign policy, while allegations of sexual misconduct during a trip to Scandinavia last year have tarnished his reputation.
On Tuesday, 40-year-old Assange appeared at a British High Court in London and sat in the second row of a wood-paneled room, flanked by supporters. He wore his platinum-colored hair cut short, with spectacles and a dark-colored suit. Members of public gathered in the court's upper gallery. Outside, a small group of protesters gathered, with one banner reading: "The First Casualty of War is Truth."
Assange denies any wrongdoing, and he and his supporters have suggested that the Swedish prosecution is being manipulated to political ends -- possibly with an eye toward sending him to the United States, where a federal grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks' activities.
Swedish authorities reject the charge, and on Feb. 24 a British District Court judge found in their favor, saying there is no reason to believe he wouldn't receive a fair trial in Sweden.
Assange appealed the decision to a British High Court while continuing to work from a wealthy supporter's mansion in eastern England, where he lives under virtual house arrest.
In an interview last month, Assange complained that the strict bail conditions -- he's under an overnight curfew, must wear an electronic tag and report to police daily -- had hampered his activities.
His website has not accepted any new material in months, although WikiLeaks' latest release in April -- hundreds of detainee assessment forms covering the inmates at Guantanamo Bay -- offered never-before-published information on those being held at the U.S. military prison.
Assange's appeal hearing was due to last until Wednesday. Judgment is expected to be reserved, which means that a ruling might not be made public for days or weeks. Assange has vowed to take his case to Britain's Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights, if his appeal is rejected.
Protests are planned in front of the neogothic Royal Courts of Justice, where Assange's case was due to be heard.
Online, there were hints from a high-profile member of Anonymous -- an amorphous, loosely organized group of hackers sympathetic to WikiLeaks -- that confidential U.S. data might be leaked online to coincide with the hearing.