U.S. Request To Extradite Julian Assange Denied By U.K. Judge
A British judge denied the U.S. request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to America citing “mental health” issues. He was charged in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for his role in publishing classified military and diplomatic cables.
“I have decided that extradition would be oppressive and I order his discharge,” judge Vanessa Baraitser said in her ruling Monday.
The “special administrative measures” that Assange would most likely be held in would have a severe, negative impact on his mental health and the increased isolation he would face in U.S. detention would further increase the impact, according to judge Baraitser.
The judge also claimed that Assange had “remained either severely or moderately clinically depressed,” throughout his stay at London’s Belmarsh prison and that he was now considered a suicide risk.
“I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold,” said Baraitser in her full ruling, published online. “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 U.S. said it would appeal against the decision and asked for Assange to be remanded to custody while the process is occurring. They have 10 days to make a formal application to the U.K. High Court, where all extradition appeals are heard.
In April 2019, the U.S. charged Assange with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” a charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years. In May 2019, the federal government charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables.
Each of those counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years, meaning that if convicted now, Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in jail.
Assange’s lawyers and supporters have long argued that the extradition order against him is politically motivated. If carried out, it would have a “chilling effect” on press freedoms in both the U.S. and the U.K.
Marc Raimondi, acting director of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice spoke out about the appeal, saying “while we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised. In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech.”
According to Raimondi, despite Baraitser’s findings, the department will “continue to seek” Assange’s extradition.
Nick Vamos, a lawyer and former head of extradition at the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service, explained that because of the U.S. government’s appeal, Assange’s legal team will have the option of cross-appealing on the arguments they lost. The U.S. government will have the opportunity to “provide additional evidence or assurances to the High Court to address the judge’s findings about the likelihood that Assange will commit suicide.”
The judge will consider a bail application from Assange’s legal team on Wednesday. However, Assange will have to point to a change in circumstances, such as the COVID-19 risk, rather than the extradition judgment, for the application to be considered.