UK judge rules against extraditing WikiLeaks founder to the US
A judge in the United Kingdom has ruled against extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, citing mental health concerns.
Authorities in the US want to prosecute Mr Assange, 49, over the publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010 and 2011.
They argue the leaking of those endangered lives, whereas Mr Assange says he is being pursued for political reasons.
Last year he was indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, plus one count of violating the Computers Fraud and Abuse Act.
In her ruling on Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser accepted that US authorities were acting “in good faith” and that Mr Assange may have broken US laws, but said his mental state was such that he could not be extradited.
“Notwithstanding the strong and constant support he receives from his family and friends, Mr Assange has remained either severely or moderately clinically depressed throughout his detention,” Judge Baraitser said.
“His prison medical notes record numerous occasions on which he had told the prison psychologist, Dr Corson, and other medical staff that he had suicidal or self-harming thoughts, felt despairing or hopeless and had made plans to end his life.
“On May 5, 2019 half of a razor blade was found in his cell, inside a cupboard and concealed under some underwear. Shortly after this, on May 19, an ACCT review stated that Mr Assange was finding it hard to control the thoughts of self-harm.
“I accept that there are entries in the notes which indicate a much better mood and lighter spirits at times, however the overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future.
“For all of these reasons I find Mr Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.”
Because he has been charged under the Espionage Act, Mr Assange would likely face detention in a maximum security prison if extradited to the US, and the imposition of “special administrative measures” (SAMs, which are imposed in the name of protecting information critical to national security.
Such measures can include housing an inmate in administrative detention and limiting certain privileges, including correspondence, visits, interviews with journalists and phone usage.
“I am satisfied that, if he is subjected to the extreme conditions of SAMs, Mr Assange’s mental health will deteriorate to the point where he will commit suicide,” Judge Baraitser concluded.
“It is my judgment that there is a real risk that he will be kept in the near isolated conditions imposed by the harshest SAMs regime, both pre-trial and post-trial.
“A SAMs regime would severely restrict his contact with all other human beings, including other prisoners, staff and his family. He would have absolutely no communication with other prisoners, even through the walls of his cell, and time out of his cell would be spent alone.”
She said Mr Assange “undoubtedly has the intellect to circumvent” prison authorities efforts to prevent him from taking 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.”
US prosecutors have said they will appeal the ruling within the next fortnight.
More to come.