A United Kingdom judge ruled on Monday that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, should not be extradited to the United States because it could endanger his health.
“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,” Judge Vanessa Baraitser said.
Nearly all arguments from Assange’s legal team were rejected, but the judge said she could not extradite him because of concerns over his mental health and risk of suicide in the U.S.
Journalist Kevin Gosztola, who has been covering the trial, tweeted: “The United States government’s mass incarceration system just lost them their case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”
If extradited, Assange would face an 18-count superseding indictment under the Espionage Act and a potential prison sentence of 175 years.
The U.S. accused Assange of espionage after WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of pages of government documents, emails, and other communications. These publications included video evidence of U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as the so-called “Collateral Murder” footage from Baghdad in 2007, which shows U.S. troops in an Apache helicopter killing 18 civilians, including two Reuters journalists.
Prosecutors argued that Assange assisted defense analyst Chelsea Manning, but the 49-year-old WikiLeaks founder denied the allegations.
In 2019, Assange was dragged out of Ecuador’s embassy building in London, where he took refuge for more than seven years. The British police said he was arrested for skipping his bail in 2012 and on behalf of the U.S. due to an extradition warrant.
Assange’s lawyers had argued the prosecution was a politically-motivated move by outgoing United States President Donald Trump—and that extradition would pose a threat to journalism.
“This is an important win and a ruling that should be celebrated,” Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, said. “But let’s not forget that [Judge Vanessa Baraitser] also made some very problematic findings on the free speech aspects of this case.”
Press freedom advocates warn the judge’s ruling could deter journalists from publishing classified documents and cultivating confidential sources.
“The press freedom fear here is that the prosecution of Assange, and even the indictment itself, will deter journalism that is important and necessary and that should be regarded as protected by the First Amendment,” Jameel Jaffer, founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told Democracy Now! “I think that this ruling is, again, a victory for Assange, but insofar as it’s an endorsement of the U.S.’s prosecution theory and of the underlying indictment, I think that that indictment is going to continue to cast a kind of shadow over investigative journalism.”
The U.S. is appealing the case to the U.K. Supreme Court, while Assange’s legal team confirmed it will apply for bail at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Hours after Judge Baraister made her ruling, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a press conference that he was “going to ask the foreign minister… to ask the U.K. government about the possibility that Mr. Assange go free and that Mexico offer him political asylum,”