Protracted extradition of Wikileaks co-founder to the United States is halted by London court, but US DoJ is expected to appeal
The legal odyssey of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange continues in 2021, with the news that a British court has stopped his extradition to the United States.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in London blocked the US extradition request because of concerns over Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide in America, the BBC reported.
Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh prison, but he 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.
And it is clear that Judge Baraitser believes that Assange did break the law after she ruled that while US prosecutors had met the tests for Assange to be extradited for trial, the US was incapable of preventing him from attempting to take his own life.
“The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future,” the judge is reported by the BBC as saying. “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 BBC reported that Assange, who wore a blue suit and green face mask in the dock, closed his eyes as the judge read out her ruling on Monday.
His fiancée Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, reportedly wept and was comforted by Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, who sat next to her in court.
Speaking outside court after the ruling, she called on the US president to “end this now.”
“Mr President, tear down these prison walls,” she said. “Let our little boys have their father. Free Julian, free the press, free us all.”
But this battle is not over, with the the US justice department reportedly noting that its legal arguments had prevailed.
Its position is that the leaks broke the law and endangered lives.
“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised,” the US DoJ reportedly said.
The US authorities have 14 days in which to lodge an appeal and are expected to do so, the BBC reported.
It is understood that Assange will now be taken back to Belmarsh Prison and a full application for his bail will be made on Wednesday.
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”.
“Assange is in a dire state of health due to the effects of prolonged psychological torture in both the Ecuadorian embassy and Belmarsh prison, where he has been arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” they wrote last year.
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.
The state of health of Julian Assange has been much discussed in the past couple of years.
In May 2019 Julian Assange was too ill to appear via video link in a court room hearing to discuss his extradition to the United States.
But in June 2019 then Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed a US request for Julian Assange to be extradited to America.
Assange then made a court appearance in October 2019, where he failed to delay his extradition hearing to the United States.
During that appearance, Assange appeared frail, and found it hard to remember when he was born.
Assange has always denied the Swedish allegations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm.
He said the charges were a political ruse, and he fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012, after he lost his final plea in the UK to avoid extradition to Sweden.
After a seven year stand off with British authorities, Assange was finally brought into custody when British police entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019 and dragged him out.
Assange was then found guilty in the Southwark Crown Court of breaching the Bail Act, and was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail, at Belmarsh prison in London, before he could be sent to the United States.