Citing concerns for his mental health, district Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers.
The Wikileaks founder is wanted in the US for the publication in 2010 and 2011 of hundreds of thousands of US military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as American diplomatic communications.
The leak was published by the mainstream media all over the world. The revelations included classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.
In an 18-count indictment, the US government is accusing Assange of conspiring to hack into US military databases to acquire sensitive secret information relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which was then published on the Wikileaks website.
The US claims that these publications broke the law and endangered lives. If convicted in the US, Assange faces a possible prison sentence of up to 175 years.
Whatever the official arguments are, the decision not to extradite #Assange is historical for the right to information. It does not add an additional threat to investigative journalism. An extradition would have set a precedent. For those who defend him, it is a huge relief. pic.twitter.com/D7y7EwvJwm
— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) January 4, 2021
Assange is currently being held in HM Prison Belmarsh, where he has served 50 weeks for breaching bail conditions in 2012. That year, he was granted asylum by Ecuador and spent the next seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London until April 2019, when he was arrested as soon as his protection had been withdrawn.
Following his arrest, United Nations special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer had written to the British government expressing his concern that in the United States, “Mr Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
Melzer’s concerns were shared by numerous international media organizations and journalists around the world.
— Nils Melzer (@NilsMelzer) January 4, 2021
In her conclusion, Judge Baraitser outlined the evidence of his self-harm and suicidal thoughts and said: “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future.” She then concluded that: “I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States.”
International media organisations have taken to social media to welcome the decision.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has been at the forefront of the campaign against Assange’s extradition and has faced numerous challenges while trying to monitor the court proceedings following the judge’s decision to revoke access for all NGO observers at the start of September’s proceedings at the Old Bailey. The only way RSF could monitor proceedings was to gain physical access to the limited spaces made available in the public gallery of the crowded courtroom each day. RSF was the only NGO to do so and has documented the extensive obstructions the organisation has faced.
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at RSF, was eventually granted access to today’s hearing after queuing outside the courts at 4am and after having repeatedly being asked to justify her presence to the police.
I have now had to make my case to at least 10 different police officers. I am not moving. I will force an arrest if needed. It is within my rights to do my job. We are waiting for clarification from the judge about who will be allowed in. 14/
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) January 4, 2021
The US authorities have said that they intend to appeal the decision.