February 22, 2024
Julian Assange: US extradition request for Wikileaks founder rejected by UK judge

Julian Assange: US extradition request for Wikileaks founder rejected by UK judge

The 49-year-old Australian has been charged in the US under the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified military and diplomatic cables.

“I have decided that extradition would be oppressive and I order his discharge,” judge Vanessa Baraitser said in her ruling Monday.

Despite ruling that Assange would be afforded a “fair trial” in the event of extradition to the United States, the judge considered that the “special administrative measures” Assange would most likely be held in would have a severe, negative impact on his mental health.

In her full ruling, published online, Baraitser wrote: “I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold … However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder.”

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” she added.

Court sketch of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey in London for the ruling in his extradition case on Monday, January 4, 2021.

A tightly-packed crowd of supporters celebrated the news outside the Old Bailey in London on Monday, shouting: “Free, free, free, Assange!”

The US said it would appeal against the decision and asked for the WikiLeaks founder to be remanded in custody while that process was ongoing.

The judge will consider a bail application from Assange’s legal team on Wednesday afternoon.

Assange’s lawyers and supporters have argued that the extradition order against him is politically motivated, and that, if carried out, it would have a chilling effect on press freedoms in both the US and the UK.

Speaking outside court on Monday Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said the group welcomed the judge’s decision that Assange would not be extradited because of his serious mental health issues, but that they were very concerned about the “substance of the decision.”

“We continue to believe that Mr. Assange has been targeted for his contributions to journalism and until the underlying issues here are addressed other journalists, sources and publishers remain at risk,” Vincent said.

In April 2019, the US charged Assange with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” a charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years. In May 2019, the federal government charged Assange with a further 17 counts under the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified military and diplomatic cables.

Each of those counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years, meaning that if convicted, Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in jail.

The 18-count superseding indictment handed down in the Eastern District of Virginia alleged that Assange actively solicited classified information from former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who obtained thousands of pages of classified material and provided Assange with diplomatic State Department cables, Iraq war-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.
At the start of the extradition hearing in February 2019 Assange’s legal team argued that US President Donald Trump was trying to “make an example” of Assange as the trove of classified defense documents relating to Iraq and Afghanistan published by WikiLeaks revealed evidence of war crimes.

Lawyers for the US government argued that by publishing the diplomatic cables in an unredacted form, Assange had put the lives of sources and informants in “immediate” danger, and damaged the capabilities of US forces carrying out operations abroad.

“Reporting or journalism is not a license for criminality,” James Lewis, Counsel for the US government told the court.

Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on human rights in Europe said in a September 2020 statement that the implications of the extradition order could not be overstated.

“Silence this one man, and the US and its accomplices will gag others, spreading fear of persecution and prosecution over a global media community already under assault in the US and in many other countries worldwide,” she said.

Assange has been held in London’s HMP Belmarsh prison — one of the most secure facilities in England and Wales — since he was arrested by UK authorities in April 2019, after Ecuador revoked his right to political asylum.

He had been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge since 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden over an allegation of rape, which he denied and which has since been dropped.
Julian Assange's lawyers say he tried to warn the US government about release of sensitive files. He was told to call back

Nils Melzer, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, has previously said that Assange displays “extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma” after being subjected to several years’ worth of “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Melzer met Assange in Belmarsh Prison in May 2019, and concluded that his health had been “seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years.”

He added that Assange was subjected to “oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy,” as well as “deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation.”

Stella Moris, Assange’s partner and the mother of the couple’s two children, said in an editorial published in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday that Assange had “been acting in the same way as any other journalist would, in attempting to hold the powerful to account.”

“Julian embarrassed Washington and this is their revenge,” she said.

Moris has launched a Twitter campaign asking Trump to pardon Assange before he leaves office.