The London judge ruled that Julian Assange would be at extreme risk of suicide if he were sent across the Atlantic.
A British court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Paul Assange should not be extradited to the United States where he would have faced over 18 charges, including espionage and breaching national security.
A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges over the publication of secret U.S. documents a decade ago, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused the US extradition request on the basis that there was a high risk of Assange committing suicide if he were to be sent to the US.
In a mixed ruling for Assange and his supporters, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected defense arguments that the 49-year-old Australian faces a politically motivated American prosecution that rides roughshod over free-speech protections.
But she said Assange’s precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near-total isolation” he would face in a U.S. prison.
Assange came to prominence for creating WikiLeaks, which for years leaked state secrets from governments all over the world.
The US Department of Justice initially indicted Assange in April 2019 for conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password to a classified US government computer network, the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet).
The extradition decision follows over a decade of Assange facing court allegations across various jurisdictions. In 2010, Assange was accused of unlawful coercion, rape, and molestation in Sweden and was ordered to be extradited to the Scandinavian country in 2011. Shortly after the order was made, Assange entered the Embassy of Ecuador in London to escape extradition.
Lawyers for the U.S. government said they would appeal the decision, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it would continue to seek Assange’s extradition.
However, that charge was superseded in May 2019 by a new 18 count indictment alleging that beginning in late 2009, 49-year-old Assange and WikiLeaks actively solicited the United States classified information, publishing a list of “Most Wanted Leaks” that sought classified documents.
Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.
“Manning responded to Assange’s solicitations by using access granted to her as an intelligence analyst to search for the United States classified documents, and provided to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 US Department of State cables,” said the Department of Justice .
He spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy before being arrested by the British police in 2019 for previously failing to surrender to court. The arrest occurred when the Ecuadorian government withdrew its asylum.
Assange was found guilty of failing to surrender to court and sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching bail conditions.
The security incident, in which many documents classified at the Secret level were exposed, was described by the DOJ as one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.
In Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the Trump administration’s request to extradite Assange to the United States on mental health grounds.
During that time, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued 18 charges against him. Among those charges were that Assange allegedly conspired with, and “aided and abetted”, Chelsea Manning to remove US classified documents.
The department also alleged that Assange published on WikiLeaks the unredacted names of sources in Iraq and Afghanistan that provided information to the US, which put those individuals in danger.
Releasing her judgment on Monday, Baraitser categorized her analysis of the charges into three strands: Broad conspiracy, aiding and abetting Chelsea Manning with obtaining and disclosing government documents, and publishing documents that contained the names of informants.
“That extradition should be refused because it would be unjust and oppressive by reason of Mr. Assange’s mental condition and the high risk of suicide pursuant to section 91 of the EA 2003,” Baraitser said.
In all three strands, Baraitser rejected Assange’s defenses, saying that media members, in principle, are not released from their duty to obey the ordinary criminal law.
Journalists have “duties and responsibilities” and the scope of these responsibilities depends on their situation and the “technical means” they use, she said, while noting that it could be argued that Assange is not a media member.
She also said that Assange could not prove that the releasing of government documents stopped crimes against humanity, explaining that he was unable to identify a class of people for whom he reasonably regarded himself as being responsible.
In terms of the extradition itself, Baraitser said that the extradition of Assange to the US was permissible under UK law despite a UK-US treaty stating that people could not be extradited from the UK to the US for a political offense due to the powers of Parliament reigning supreme in this instance.
Referring to the opinion of Professor Michael Kopelman, medical expert and emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, Baraitser said, “Taking account of all of the information available to him, he considered Mr. Assange’s risk of suicide to be very high should extradition become imminent. This was a well-informed opinion carefully supported by evidence and explained over two detailed reports.”
Commenting on Baraitser’s decision, the Freedom of the Press Foundation said: “This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists.
Despite these conclusions, Baraitser blocked the extradition request as it would be “unjust and oppressive by reason of Assange’s mental condition and the high risk of suicide”.
This conclusion was made following testimony from various medical experts that Assange had a severe recurrent depressive disorder, which was sometimes accompanied by psychotic features and suicidal ideas.
Assange was also found to have post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and autism.
In response to the extradition’s rejection, the US Justice Department said it was “extremely disappointed” but was gratified that it “prevailed on every point of law raised”.
“In particular, the court rejected all of Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech. We will continue to seek Assange’s extradition to the United States,” the Justice Department added.
“The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the US prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”