The legal journey of Julian Assange continues, after a British judge ruled the United States can expand its extradition case against the Wikileaks co-founder.
It comes after District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in London had in January this year blocked the US extradition request because of concerns over Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide in America.
Assange is wanted by the US Justice Department, which has accused him of violating the Espionage Act, after he received top secret data (from Chelsea Manning) and unlawfully published the names of classified sources back in 2010 and 2011.
Now the Guardian newspaper has reported that Lord Justice Holroyde in London has ruled that the weight given to a misleading report from Assange’s psychiatric expert that was submitted at the original hearing in January could form part of Washington’s full appeal in October.
Justice Holroyde said he believed it was arguable that Judge Vanessa Baraitser had attached too much weight to the evidence of Prof Michael Kopelman when deciding not to allow the US’s appeal.
The expert had told the court he believed Assange would take his own life if extradited.
But he did not include in his report the fact that Assange had fathered two children with his partner while holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London – a fact Assange later used in support of his bail application.
The Guardian reported that Clair Dobbin QC, for the US, argued the expert misled Baraitser, who presided over the January hearing.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Assange, told the court Baraitser, having heard all of the evidence in the case, was in the best position to assess it and reach her decision.
Delivering the latest decision, Holroyde said it was “very unusual” for an appeal court to have to consider evidence from an expert that had been accepted by a lower court, but also found to have been misleading – even if the expert’s actions had been deemed an “understandable human response” designed to protect the privacy of Assange’s partner and children.
The judge said that, in those circumstances, it was “at least arguable” that Baraitser erred in basing her conclusions on the professor’s evidence.
The US government had previously been allowed to appeal against Baraitser’s decision on three grounds – one of which that her conclusion was wrong in law.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the US government argued Assange, was not “so ill” that he would be unable to resist killing himself if extradited.
The US also challenged Baraitser’s ruling that the US authorities could not “prevent Assange from finding a way to commit suicide” if he was extradited.
Dobbin said the US government would seek to show that Assange’s mental health problems did not meet the threshold required in law to prevent extradition.
According to the Guardian, Assange appeared at the hearing via video link from Belmarsh prison, wearing a dark face covering and a white shirt.
Supporters and doctors have long campaigned for the release of Julian Assange on medical grounds.
In February 2020, 117 doctors from 18 nations penned an open letter to the medical journal ‘The Lancet’, in which they called for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange”.
In November 2019, the Doctors for Assange group also expressed their concern for his welfare, saying he was so ill he could die.
They called for Assange to moved from Belmarsh high security prison to a university teaching hospital.
Supporter and former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson also in 2019 warned that the health of Assange was causing concern. She said that said that his life “was at risk” and he is “unhealthy” in captivity.
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