British judge blocks extradition of Julian Assange to U.S.

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Jan. 4 (UPI) — A British judge ruled Monday that WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States, where he faces charges for publishing official defense documents.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, in a ruling delivered at London’s Old Bailey court, said Assange could not be extradited due to his risk of suicide in the U.S. penal system.

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Assange, she said, is “a depressed and sometimes despairing man genuinely fearful about his future,” and if extradited, would be “housed in conditions of significant isolation,” hampering contact with family.

There was evidence of a risk to Assange’s health if he were to face trial in the United States, Baraitser said, adding that the 49-year-old activist’s risk of committing suicide appeared to be “substantial.”

Lawyers for the United States immediately said they would appeal the ruling.

Assange was arrested in April 2019 and has since been held in a high-security prison. He had been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, where he sought asylum to dodge sexual assault charges in Sweden.

Assange was arrested after Ecuador withdrew its offer of asylum. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said the country’s patience for Assange had “reached its limit” after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life.”

Assange was indicted on 17 new charges of violating the Espionage Act in 2019 and already faced a charge from March 2018 of conspiring to commit unlawful computer intrusion, which carried a maximum five years in prison.

He was accused of working with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain and publicly release classified information. The new charges brought his total charges to 18 counts with each violation of the Espionage Act carrying a maximum 10-year sentence.

Assange has consistently claimed he was acting as a journalist but Baraitser said earlier in extradition hearing that his receipt of thousands of classified files went beyond investigative journalism.

In her Monday ruling, the judge dismissed arguments from Assange’s legal team that he couldn’t be afforded protections under the U.S. Constitution, but agreed that he could not be extradited on health grounds.

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