WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing a pivotal moment in his long-running legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States, as a British court is set to deliver a final decision on Monday. The ruling, which comes after 13 years of legal disputes and detentions, could see Assange on a plane to the U.S. within 24 hours, released from jail, or his case bogged down in months of further legal wrangling.

Two judges at the High Court in London will determine whether they are satisfied with U.S. assurances that Assange, 52, would not face the death penalty and could rely on the First Amendment right to free speech if he faced a U.S. trial for spying. The Australian-born Assange has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over WikiLeaks' publication of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents in 2010, which prosecutors say conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange and his supporters argue that he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing and is protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. "Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. government," his wife, Stella Assange, said. "Reporting a crime is never a crime."

The WikiLeaks founder's freedom has been restricted for a dozen years, beginning with his taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden as part of a rape investigation. He was arrested by British police in 2019 after Ecuador withdrew his asylum status and has since been held in Belmarsh top security jail while the extradition battle with the U.S. continues.

A judge in London initially blocked Assange's transfer to the U.S. in 2021 on the grounds that he was likely to kill himself if held in harsh American prison conditions. However, subsequent courts cleared the way for the move after U.S. authorities provided assurances he wouldn't experience the severe treatment that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.

If the High Court rules the extradition can go ahead, Assange's legal avenues in Britain will be exhausted, and his lawyers will immediately turn to the European Court of Human Rights to seek an emergency injunction blocking deportation pending a full hearing by that court at a later date. Conversely, if the judges reject the U.S. submissions, Assange will have permission to appeal his extradition case on three grounds, which might not be heard until next year.

Stella Assange has vowed to continue fighting for her husband's liberty, regardless of the outcome. "We live from day to day, from week to week, from decision to decision. This is a way that we've been living for years and years," she told Reuters. "This is just not a way to live - it's so cruel. And I can't prepare for his extradition - how could I? But if he's extradited, then I'll do whatever I can, and our family is going to fight for him until he's free."

The case has drawn the attention of supporters worldwide, with calls for the charges to be dropped coming from human rights groups, media bodies, and political leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. President Joe Biden said last month that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Assange return to his home country, a comment that Stella Assange described as a "good sign."