UK court rejects US extradition of Assange

The London judge ruled that Julian Assange would be at extreme risk of suicide if he were sent across the Atlantic.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

A UK court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not be extradited to the US, where he would have faced over 18 charges, including espionage and breaching national security.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused the US extradition request on the basis that there was a high risk of Assange committing suicide if he were to be sent to the US.

Assange came to prominence for creating WikiLeaks, which for years leaked state secrets from governments all over the world.

The extradition decision follows over a decade of Assange facing court allegations across various jurisdictions. In 2010, Assange was accused of unlawful coercion, rape, and molestation in Sweden and was ordered to be extradited to the Scandinavian country in 2011. Shortly after the order was made, Assange entered the Embassy of Ecuador in London to escape extradition. 

These charges have since been dropped.

He spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy before being arrested by the British police in 2019 for previously failing to surrender to court. The arrest occurred when the Ecuadorian government withdrew its asylum.

Assange was found guilty of failing to surrender to court and sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for breaching bail conditions.

During that time, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued 18 charges against him. Among those charges were that Assange allegedly conspired with, and "aided and abetted", Chelsea Manning to remove US classified documents. The department also alleged that Assange published on WikiLeaks the unredacted names of sources in Iraq and Afghanistan that provided information to the US, which put those individuals in danger.

Releasing her judgment on Monday, Baraitser categorised her analysis of the charges into three strands: Broad conspiracy, aiding and abetting Chelsea Manning with obtaining and disclosing government documents, and publishing documents that contained the names of informants.

In all three strands, Baraitser rejected Assange's defences, saying that media members, in principle, are not released from their duty to obey the ordinary criminal law. Journalists have "duties and responsibilities" and the scope of these responsibilities depends on their situation and the "technical means" they use, she said, while noting that it could be argued that Assange is not a media member.

She also said that Assange could not prove that the releasing of government documents stopped crimes against humanity, explaining that he was unable to identify a class of people for whom he reasonably regarded himself as being responsible for. 

In terms of the extradition itself, Baraitser said that the extradition of Assange to the US was permissible under UK law despite a UK-US treaty stating that people could not be extradited from the UK to the US for a political offence due to the powers of Parliament reigning supreme in this instance. 

"Whilst it is obviously desirable for both governments to honour the terms of a treaty they have agreed, Parliament has made its intentions clear. The source of lawmaking remains with Parliament and the executive does not have the power to alter this through the provisions of a treaty," Baraitser said.

Despite these conclusions, Baraitser blocked the extradition request as it would be "unjust and oppressive by reason of Assange's mental condition and the high risk of suicide". This conclusion was made following testimony from various medical experts that Assange had severe recurrent depressive disorder, which was sometimes accompanied by psychotic features and suicidal ideas. 

Assange was also found to have post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and autism. 

In response to the extradition's rejection, the US Justice Department said it was "extremely disappointed" but was gratified that it "prevailed on every point of law raised".

"In particular, the court rejected all of Assange's arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech. We will continue to seek Assange's extradition to the United States," the Justice Department added.


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