FILE - In this May 19, 2017 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self imposed exile since 2012. Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US. because of concerns about his mental health, it was reported on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Assange had been charged under the US’s 1917 Espionage Act for “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence”. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

FILE - In this May 19, 2017 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self imposed exile since 2012. Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US. because of concerns about his mental health, it was reported on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Assange had been charged under the US’s 1917 Espionage Act for “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence”. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

UK judge refuses US extradition of WikiLeaks founder Assange

U.S. says it would appeal decision

LONDON — 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.

In a mixed ruling for Assange and his supporters, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected defence 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.

“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 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Assange, who sat quietly 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.

Outside court, Moris said the ruling was “the first step towards justice,” but it was not yet time to celebrate.

“I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home,” she said. “Today is not that day, but that day will come soon.”

The ruling marks a dramatic moment in Assange’s years-long legal battles in Britain — though likely not its final chapter.

It’s unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will pursue the prosecution, initiated under President Donald Trump.

Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified” by the British court’s decision.

“We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further,” he said.

Moris urged Trump to pardon Assange before he leaves office later this month.

“Mr. President, tear down these prison walls,” she said. “Let our little boys have their father.”

U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawyers for the U.S. government denied that Assange was being prosecuted merely for publishing, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The British judge sided with U.S. lawyers on that score, saying Assange’s actions, if proven, would “amount to offences in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.” She also said the U.S. judicial system would give him a fair trial.

The defence also argued during a three-week hearing in the fall that Assange risked “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhumane conditions” if he was sent to the United States,

The judge agreed that U.S. prison conditions would be oppressive. She accepted evidence from expert witnesses that Assange had a depressive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder.

“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,” the judge said in her ruling.

The prosecution of Assange has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines free speech around the world.

They welcomed the judge’s decision, even though it was not made on free-speech grounds.

“This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was beyond the reach of U.K. and Swedish authorities — but also effectively a prisoner, unable to leave the tiny diplomatic mission in London’s tony Knightsbridge area.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for breaching bail in 2012.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange has remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison throughout his extradition hearing.

By The Associated Press

CourtWikileaks

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

Outfielder George Springer is shown in a screengrab from a virtual news conference he took part in on Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021. Springer says he's excited to be a part of a young, talented team like the Toronto Blue Jays, a club he believes has plenty of potential. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tries to fend off Saskatchewan Roughrider Zack Evans during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot (72) tries to clear Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle (83) from in front of Senators goaltender Marcus Hogberg (1) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) knocks a rebound away from Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) and defenseman John Klingberg (3) celebrates a goal by Joe Pavelski against the Nashville Predators during the third period an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith instructs his team in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

Advocates for the homeless hold a protest against the COVID-19 curfew Monday, January 11, 2021 in Montreal. The Quebec government says it will not challenge a temporary court order granted Tuesday that exempts the homeless from a provincewide curfew imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Quebec exempts homeless from ‘cruel’ curfew after court rules order endangered safety

Quebec exempts homeless from ‘cruel’ curfew after court rules order endangered safety

Most Read