A British court has denied a request from U.S. officials to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on charges of illegally obtaining and sharing classified material related to national security.
Extradition to the U.S. would be unjust and oppressive to Assange’s mental health, British Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser said in her decision Monday.
The judge’s decision surprised many watching the case who expected her to honor the U.S. request.
A psychiatrist who analyzed Assange during his time in prison in London told Baraitser that Assange was at a very high risk of committing suicide if he ended up in a U.S. prison.
Assange was diagnosed in December 2019 with recurrent depressive disorder, which was at times severe, and sometimes accompanied by hallucinations and often with thoughts of suicide, Baraitser said in her opinion.
She cited the psychiatrist who studied Assange, writing, “Although the imminence of extradition or extradition itself would trigger the attempt, its cause would be Mr. Assange’s clinical depression. He stated, ‘I am as confident as a psychiatrist ever can be that, if extradition to the United States were to become imminent, Mr. Assange will find a way of suiciding.'”
Charges Assange faced
Assange was facing 18 counts tied to charges dating from 2010. He is accused by the U.S. government of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, in a coordinated effort to compromise U.S. government computer networks and to obtain and publish classified documents.
If convicted of all charges in the U.S., Assange could have faced a maximum of 175 years in prison, likely in the U.S. Administrative Maximum Facility or AMX, in Florence, Colo. The prison maintains strict lockdown for inmates, who get almost no human contact and are kept in their cells 23 hours a day.
Those tough conditions might have pushed Assange to suicide, Baraitser said.
The documents Assange posted on the WikiLeaks website and shared with journalists included classified diplomatic cables and sensitive military reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The U.S. claims that by releasing those documents, Assange published the names of locals in Iraq and Afghanistan that assisted the military, putting their lives at risk.
The judge’s order Monday allows Assange to continue to evade U.S. law enforcement, an effort that’s included spending seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy. He was expelled from the embassy in April 2019 and sent to London’s Belmarsh prison.
The Washington Post reports, Assange’s attorney will ask for his imminent release from prison as they await a likely appeal from the U.S. to the U.K.’s High Court.