Julian Assange cannot be extradited to US, British judge rules


Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers, a British judge has decided.

The ruling was delivered at the central criminal court by the district judge, Vanessa Baraitser.

She said the WikiLeaks founder was likely to be held in conditions of isolation in a so-called supermax prison in the US and procedures described by US authorities would not prevent him from potentially finding a way to take his own life.

“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,” said the judge. Lawyers for US authorities have been given 15 days to appeal.

Her decision, focusing on Assange’s health, came after she knocked down one argument after another made last year by Assange’s lawyers. Sending him to the US would not breach a bar on extradition for “political offences” she said, and she had no reason to doubt that “the usual constitutional and procedural protections” would be applied to a trial he might face in the US.

But she accepted the evidence of prominent medical experts, including details of how Assange had suffered from depression while in prison in London. “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man who is genuinely depressed about his future,” said Baraitser.

The case against the 49-year-old relates to WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.

Prosecutors say Assange helped the US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the US Espionage Act, was complicit in hacking by others and published classified information that endangered informants.

Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US computers and says there is no evidence anyone’s safety was compromised. His lawyers argue the prosecution is politically motivated and that he is being pursued because WikiLeaks published US government documents that revealed evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses.

At the weekend, Assange’s partner had said a decision to extradite the WikiLeaks co-founder to the US would be “politically and legally disastrous for the UK”.

Stella Moris, who has two children with Assange, said a decision to allow extradition would be an “unthinkable travesty”, adding in an article published by the Mail on Sunday that it would rewrite the rules of what it was permissible to publish in Britain.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.”

TimelineShow

WikiLeaks releases about 470,000 classified military documents concerning American diplomacy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It later releases a further tranche of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.

A Swedish prosecutor issues a European arrest warrant for Assange over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women. Assange denies the claims.

A British judge rules that Assange can be extradited to Sweden. Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to US authorities who could prosecute him.

Assange is questioned in a two-day interview over the allegations at the Ecuadorian embassy by Swedish authorities.

Britain refuses Ecuador's request to accord Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to leave the embassy without being arrested.

Police arrest Assange at the embassy on behalf of the US after his asylum was withdrawn. He is charged by the US with 'a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.'

Assange's extradition hearing begins at Woolwich crown court in south-east London. After a week of opening arguments, the extradition case is to be adjourned until May. Further delays are caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

A hearing scheduled for four weeks begins at the Old Bailey with the US government expected to make their case that Assange tried to recruit hackers to find classified government information. If the courts approve extradition, the British government will still have the final say.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourns the case.

Stella Moris urges Donald Trump to pardon Assange before he leaves office.

A British judge rules that Assange cannot be extradited to the US. The US has 15 days to appeal against the judgment.

Over the course of hearings last year, lawyers for Assange had called witnesses who told the court that WikiLeaks had played a vital role in bring revelations to light that exposed the way in which the US had conducted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among them, the founder of the legal charity Reprieve, Clive Stafford-Smith, said “grave violations of law” such as the use of US drones for targeted strikes in Pakistan had been brought to light with the help of documents published by WikiLeaks.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam war, had also defended Assange, saying he had acted in the public interest, and warned he would not get a fair trial in the US.

Assange has been in custody in Britain since April 2019, when he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had taken refuge seven years previously to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that was subsequently dropped.