WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Extradition to the United States Blocked by UK Judge

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven out of Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019, after having been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. - A British judge on Wednesday sentenced …
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

A British judge ruled on Monday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage, as it would increase the risk of Assange commiting suicide in prison.

United States prosecutors indicted the Australian born WikiLeaks founder on 17 charges under the Espionage Act as well as one count of computer misuse, meaning that were he to be extradited to America, Mr Assange would have faced up to 175 years in prison.

The court heard that were he to be convicted of the charges, Assange could face a sentence in the Supermax ADX prison facility in Colorado — where convicted terrorist Abu Hamza is currently incarcerated — and would be subject to solitary confinement.

Psychiatrists for the legal defence team argued that this would increase the suicide risk for Mr Assange, who they claim has been suffering from severe depression.

Announcing the decision to block the extradition, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said: “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future.”

“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge,” the judge added.

Mr Assange is not expected to be released from the high-security Belmarsh Prison outside of London, however, as U.S. prosecutors are expected to launch an appeal against the decision.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald confirmed on social media that the WikiLeaks legal team will request that he be released on bail during the appeal process.

Assange was jailed in May of 2019 for 50 weeks for breaching his bail terms after he went into hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, out of fear of extradition to the United States.

Prior to the charges of espionage, the WikiLeaks founder was facing extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which were later dropped.

Mr Assange’s defence team had argued that the information published by WikiLeaks relating to U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afganistan should be protected under the First Amendment.

In their closing arguments, the defence claimed that the United States was acting in an “extraordinary, unprecedented and politicized” manner and that the prosecution amounted to “a flagrant denial of his right to freedom of expression and poses a fundamental threat to the freedom of the press throughout the world.”

In an interview with Breitbart London in February, Mr Assange’s father, John Shipton said: “I hope Americans look to their government and insist that their government follows the first amendment thoroughly.”

Mr Assange’s partner and the mother of his two sons, Stella Moris, has called on President Donald Trump to issue a pardon for the WikiLeaks founder before the end of his term.

WikiLeaks played a central role during the 2016 presidential election. The group published damaging information about the corruption within the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Then-candidate Trump often cited the leaks during his campaign, at one point proclaiming: “I love WikiLeaks.”

U.S. prosecutors argued that the information released by WikiLeaks had endangered lives, however, the public release of the unredacted cables was, in fact, a result of an error from a Guardian journalist. Mr Assange even attempted to warn then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the impending release of the cables.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here: @KurtZindulka

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