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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can't be extradited to the United States, judge rules

Assange, 49, faces an 18-count indictment in the US.

Assange after he was taken from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019.
Assange after he was taken from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 4th 2021, 11:10 AM

WIKILEAKS FOUNDER JULIAN Assange cannot be extradited to the United States, a UK judge has ruled.

Assange (49) faces an 18-count indictment in the US, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said: “Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge.”

He is not expected to be freed from high-security Belmarsh Prison immediately as the US government are likely to appeal, but he can make a fresh application for bail.

The case follows WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.

Prosecutors say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, was complicit in hacking by others, and published classified information that put the lives of US informants in danger.

Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence anyone’s safety was put at risk.

Assange’s lawyers had said he faced up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government said the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.

Julian Assange was seen wiping his brow after the decision was announced.

His fiancee, Stella Moris, cried and was embraced by Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, who sat next to her in court as the judgment was delivered.

Moris had been among supporters urging Donald Trump to pardon Assange before the end of his presidency.

Assange had been held in high security Belmarsh prison since he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions in April 2019.

He had entered the building in 2012 after exhausting all legal avenues to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.

Assange’s legal team claimed the prosecution under Trump’s administration was politically motivated after an investigation launched during Barack Obama’s presidency failed to bring charges.

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During his 2016 election campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump said “I love WikiLeaks” after the website published Russia-hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails.

Assange’s extradition hearing was told he was offered a pardon in August 2017, allegedly on behalf of the US president, in exchange for identifying the source of the emails.

The court also heard a security contractor was allegedly recruited by “American friends” to bug Assange’s meetings at the Ecuadorian embassy.

By December 2017, the US contacts were said to be “desperate”, and even discussed a potential kidnap or poison plot to end the stalemate.

The Old Bailey heard evidence Assange has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and psychiatrists for the defence said he suffers from severe depression and is a high suicide risk.

James Lewis QC, representing the US government, has said the hearing is “not a trial” and argued the defence submissions do not amount to a bar to Assange’s extradition.

The judge’s decision is likely to be appealed by the losing side.

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