Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US, UK judge rules
Written by on 4 January 2021
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US, a judge at the Old Bailey has said.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she had refused his extradition because of fears that he could take his own life.
The US government said it would appeal the decision.
US prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
The 49-year-old Australian activist was re-arrested in September over the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
The indictment claims he conspired with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a scrambled password, known as “hash”, to a classified US defence department computer.
The charges also offer further details of alleged hacking plotters that Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues are said to have recruited.
Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and claims there is no evidence anyone’s safety was put at risk.
He appeared at the Old Bailey on Monday where Judge Baraitser delivered her judgment.
His lawyers argued that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the judge rejected these claims, saying his conduct “would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”
She added that Assange suffered from clinical depression that would be exacerbated by the isolation he would likely face in US prison, adding he had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures the authorities could take.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described the case as “an historic, large-scale attack on freedom of speech”.
Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, was at the Old Bailey for the hearing.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the decision not to allow the extradition was an “excellent ruling by the British judge”.
“Congratulations to all the dogged campaigners on Assange’s behalf,” she tweeted.
The US non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted: “The case against Julian Assange is the most dangerous threat to US press freedom in decades. This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists.
“The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the US prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”
A bail hearing is expected shortly.