assange

A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected allegations that Assange is being prosecuted for political reasons or would not receive a fair trial in the United States. But she said his precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in U.S. prison.

“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,” the judge said.

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

The U.S. government said it would appeal the decision. Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a year-and-a-half at a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Assange, who sat in the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court for the ruling, wiped his brow as the decision was announced. His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.

“Wow. The decision was based on the U.S. prison system being so awful and repressive that Assange would be at significant suicide risk,” tweeted Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF).

The U.S. is expected to appeal the ruling. Pending U.S. appeal, Assange’s lawyers are asking that he be released on bail from London’s notorious Belmarsh prison, where the WikiLeaks founder has been detained since 2019.

While the judge did not reject the U.S. request due to the threat extradition would pose to press freedoms, advocates nevertheless celebrated the judge’s decision as “a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists.”

If extradited to the U.S., Assange would face a sentence of up to 175 years in prison for publishing classified documents—something journalists do all the time.

“The case against Julian Assange is the most dangerous threat to U.S. press freedom in decades,” noted FPF. “The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the U.S. prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”

In response to Baraitser’s decision, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted simply, “Let this be the end of it.”


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