UK judge declines US request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Judge in UK refuses extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

LONDON — A British judge on Monday ruled against extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face charges of espionage and hacking government computers in the U.S., due to his high risk of suicide in the American prison system.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected arguments from Assange’s lawyers that the case against the 49-year-old Australian was politically motivated. However, she said that Assange’s mental health would likely deteriorate under the “harsh conditions” of imprisonment in the U.S.

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“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” Baraitser wrote in her judgment. In the 132-page document, she twice referenced Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier and accused child predator who committed suicide in prison in August 2019.

Under the United Kingdom’s extradition treaty with the U.S., British authorities can decline to extradite suspects if “by reason of the person’s mental or physical condition, it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him,” according to The Associated Press.

In her judgment Monday, Baraitser said she accepted evidence from expert witnesses that Assange had a depressive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder.

“I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate, causing him to commit suicide with the single minded determination of his autism spectrum disorder,” Baraitser wrote.

Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, wept in court when the ruling came down, BBC News reported. She called Monday’s decision “the first step towards justice” and urged President Donald Trump to intervene on Assange’s behalf.

“Mr. President, tear down these prison walls,” she said, referencing President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech, according to The Guardian. “Let our little boys have their father. Free Julian. Free the press.”

In 2019, U.S. prosecutors indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and conspiring to hack government computers in 2010 and 2011, according to the AP and The New York Times. If convicted, Assange could face a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Authorities have held Assange since April 2019, after he was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He had been a guest at the embassy since 2012, after he jumped bail while facing charges of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange has remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison throughout his extradition hearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.