London court blocks Assange extradition to US for leaks case

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021 00:00 |
Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange celebrate outside the Old Bailey court in central London after a judge ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the USA to face espionage charges for publishing secret documents online. Photo/Photo/AFP

London, Monday

A British judge has ruled Julian Assange should not be extradited to the US to face espionage charges, saying that such a move would be “oppressive” because of the WikiLeaks founder’s mental health.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser delivered the decision against the US request on Monday, at the Old Bailey court in London.

She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by prison authorities.

If detained in the US, Assange “faces the bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to remove physical contact and reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum”, she said.

“He faces these prospects as someone with a diagnosis of clinical depression and persistent thoughts of suicide.

“I am satisfied that the risk that Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one.”

In the run-up to Monday’s decision, Assange had enjoyed a swell of support from press freedom advocates, who have been calling on US President Donald Trump to pardon him.

“I am relieved the judge just ruled against extradition, however I am very unhappy about how she stuck to all the major arguments put forward by the US to characterise Assange’s work as going beyond free speech and journalism,” investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi told Al Jazeera following the ruling.

Maurizi works for the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano and has worked on all of WikiLeaks’s secret documents, included the 2010 documents for which Assange has been charged.

Mental health

“I am also very concerned that Assange will remain in prison, because it’s very likely the US will appeal: he is at serious risk physically and mentally.”

After the ruling, Assange’s supporters rallying outside the court celebrated, as rights groups globally welcomed the decision with caution.

The US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted: “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.” 

For now, 49-year-old Assange, who appeared in court, is expected to remain in jail in the UK.

He has been held at the maximum security Belmarsh prison in southeast London, where fears are growing for his physical and mental health, since April 2019.

The ruling is likely to be appealed by the US government, which is attempting to prosecute Assange.

The case could then go to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, further delaying a final outcome.

US authorities accuse Australian-born Assange of 18 counts of conspiring to hack government computers and of breaching a secrecy law by releasing vast troves of confidential military records and diplomatic cables more than a decade ago. - BBC

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