Pope Francis shaking hands with Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, during a private audience in the Vatican. Image Credit: AFP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis met Friday with the wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as he nears the “endgame” of his fight against extradition to the United States on espionage charges.

Francis, the head of the worldwide Catholic Church, “received in audience Ms Stella Assange, with family members,” the Vatican said in a short statement.

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On Twitter, Stella Assange said she and her children had been given a private audience with the 86-year-old Argentine pontiff, adding: “We are overwhelmed.”

Julian Assange is in prison in Britain, fighting extradition to the US, where he faces trial for allegedly violating the US Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

He could be sentenced to decades behind bars if found guilty.

During a protest in London against his extradition earlier this month, his wife said his transfer to the United States could be imminent.

“Julian could be a few weeks away from extradition. We don’t have a clear timeline, but this really is the endgame,” Stella Assange told reporters.

Supporters portray the Australian publisher as a martyr to press freedom.

The 51-year-old has been held since 2019 at the Belmarsh high security prison in southeast London.

He previously spent nearly seven years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault.

He claimed the allegations were politically motivated, linked to the work of WikiLeaks.