WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can’t be extradited to US judicial guidelines

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange points out the window of a prison van as he is evicted from Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019, after being sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in 2012 for violating bail.

Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – A British judge ruled Monday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, will not be extradited to the US

Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the extradition was depressing due to Assange’s sanity.

“The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes desperate man who is genuinely afraid for his future,” wrote Baraitser in her judgment. “For all of these reasons, I find that Mr Assange’s risk of committing suicide if an extradition warrant is issued is significant.”

The US has reportedly announced that it will appeal the decision within the allotted two-week period.

Assange is wanted in the US for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011. He is wanted on 18 charges, 17 of which fall under the US Espionage Act.

His health deteriorated when he was held in a UK prison.

The US has specifically accused him of partnering with intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to decipher a password known as a “hash” to access a classified computer owned by the US Department of Defense and divulge military secrets.

Assange’s supporters argue that the US is targeting him for political reasons after his journalism exposes alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as human rights abuses.

If the 49-year-old Australian is extradited to the United States, his lawyers have said he could go to prison for 30 to 40 years. His mother Christine Assange said on Twitter that he will not survive if extradited. Prosecutors have announced that he will not sit in prison for more than 63 months.

Assange’s attorneys said in a final written submission to Baraitser that the indictment was politically motivated “during a unique period in US history under the (President Donald) Trump administration”.

The legal team representing the United States said federal attorneys are prohibited from taking political views into account in their decisions.

New charges

The US Department of Justice issued a new indictment in June alleging that Assange had conspired with members of hacking organizations and tried to recruit hackers at conferences in Europe and Asia who could provide WikiLeaks with classified information.

Assange’s attorney Edward Fitzgerald QC attempted to delay the hearing, arguing in August that the charges came too late for his team to review and properly respond to. James Lewis QC represented the US authorities.

Fitzgerald said he hadn’t seen Assange in person in six months, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic, the BBC said. However, an offer to exclude the new fees was unsuccessful.

Assange spoke from a glass box in August and said he disagreed with the extradition.

The hearing lasted four weeks and dozens of witnesses were asked to testify.

Locked up in Belmarsh

WikiLeaks released US military videos in 2010 showing a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people. Thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables were then released.

Soon after, Sweden tried to extradite Assange from Britain for alleged sex crimes. When he lost this case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London and sought asylum.

Assange was arrested at the embassy in April 2019 for violating his bail and has since been held in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison in south-east London.

Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, told PA Media over the summer that her partner’s health was deteriorating.

“This is an attack on journalism,” she said. “If he is extradited to the US for publishing inconvenient truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will set a precedent and any British journalist or publisher could be extradited in the future.”

Moris launched a crowdfunding campaign last month to pay for Assange’s legal fees. Over £ 175,000 ($ 239,000) has been committed.

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