UK Judge Refused to Extradite WIkileaks Founder, Julian Assange, to U.S.

( Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States.

On Monday, a judge in London ruled that the founder of WikiLeaks will not be turned over to the U.S. to face charges of espionage. The judge in the case, District Judge Vanessa Baraister, cited the harsh prison conditions he’d likely face in the U.S. and the possibility that he would kill himself.

The defense team argued that Assange, the 49-year-old Australian, is facing prosecution in America that is politically motivated. The judge did not agree with that argument. However, she did say that the precarious mental health of Assange would likely further deteriorate under “near total isolation” conditions he’d be relegated to in an American prison.

Baraister said:

“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.” She further called him “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to get around American prison authorities’ suicide prevention measures.

Assange is now set for a bail hearing on Wednesday. His lawyers said they’d ask for him to be released from a prison in London, where he’s spent the last 18 months.

The U.S. government said it plans to appeal Monday’s decision. It isn’t clear at this point, though, whether a new administration under Democrat Joe Biden will continue to pursue the case.

Assange was indicted by prosecutors in the U.S. on 17 charges of espionage as well as one charge of computer misuse. The charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, stem from WikiLeaks publishing diplomatic and military documents that were leaked 10 years ago.

Assange’s lawyers have argued that he is a journalist and has First Amendment protections of freedom of speech regarding the publication of the documents. The documents exposed some wrongdoing by the U.S. military in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

American officials say Assange isn’t being prosecuted for publishing the materials. Instead, they say their case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic military files and cables. That effort was led by Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army.

The London judge actually agreed with American lawyers on that point. She said that if it were proven true, the charges would “amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.” The judge further said she expected Assange would get a fair trial in the U.S.

But Baraister did side with the defense in saying the prison conditions in the U.S. would be too oppressive for Assange. Expert witnesses provided testimony that Assange has not only a depressive disorder but also an autism spectrum disorder.

In her ruling, Baraister wrote:

“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.”