Stating the mental health situation of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as “oppressive”, a British judge has rejected the United States’ request to extradite him. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser on Monday said Assange was likely to commit suicide if sent to the US.
The US government following the order said it would appeal the decision. The US prosecutor has charged Assange with 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argued over the charges and stated 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.
The judge rejected claims by the defense that Assange was protected by free-speech guarantees, saying his “conduct, if proved, would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”
The judge also said that Assange suffered from clinical depression that would become worse by the isolation he would likely face in US prison.
The judge further said that Assange had the “intellect and determination” to evade any suicide prevention measures the authorities could take.
In 2006, Assange founded WikiLeaks and created an internet-based “dead letter drop” for leakers of classified or sensitive information. In April 2010, Wikileaks released a leaked video from a U.S. helicopter showing an airstrike that killed civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.
In July 2010, over 91,000 documents, mostly secret U.S. military reports about the Afghanistan war, are released by WikiLeaks, a month after U.S. soldier Bradley Manning is arrested for leaking such material.
In October, WikiLeaks releases 400,000 classified military files chronicling the Iraq war. In November, it releases thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables including candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats.
The leaks were one of the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history. Assange was arrested in November 2010, in London over allegations of rape, which was later withdrawn in 2020, over non-availability of evidence.