Posted January 5, 2021 5:28 am by

UK court rejects Assange’s US extradition over suicide fears

The judge said Julian Assange was a suicide risk if he was sent into US custody © AFP/File / Daniel LEAL-OLIVASLondon, United Kingdom, Jan 5 – A British judge on Monday blocked Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States to face espionage charges after deciding the WikiLeaks founder was at serious risk of suicide, sparking disappointment in Washington.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the 49-year-old Australian publisher would have been “well aware” of the effects of his leaking of secret documents, actions that went “well beyond” the role of a journalist.

But she said his mental health would probably deteriorate in the US penal system “causing him to commit suicide”.

Assange wiped his forehead as the decision was announced in the central London court and his fiancee Stella Moris burst into tears and was embraced by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson.

He is still wanted on 18 charges in the US — with a maximum 175 years in jail — relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange celebrated outside the London court © AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Moris, who has two young sons with Assange, said the ruling was only a “first step towards justice” and appealed to US President Donald Trump to “end this now” so their sons could see their father.

Assange’s supporters began gathering early in the day, defying police warnings to disperse because of coronavirus restrictions.

They erupted in cheers and shouted “Free Assange!” on hearing the ruling, which follows more than a decade of legal controversies.

Assange and his lawyers have long argued that the protracted case is politically motivated.

The judge disagreed and the US government, which has two weeks to lodge its grounds to appeal, said it would challenge the decision.

The US Justice Department in Washington said it was “extremely disappointed” in the decision but was encouraged that the judge had indicated Assange appeared to have a legal case to answer.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, offered Assange political asylum.

– ‘Oppressive’ move –

Assange was remanded in custody until a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Any decision to block extradition should meet a high bar given Britain’s treaty obligations, Baraitser said.

But she rejected US experts’ testimony that Assange would be protected from self-harm, noting that others such as disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein had managed to kill themselves in custody despite wardens’ supervision.

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