A British court has rejected the U.S. government’s request to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the country on charges pertaining to illegally obtaining and sharing classified material related to national security.
In a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied the extradition on the grounds that Assange is a suicide risk and extradition to the U.S. prison system would be oppressive.
“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 Baraitser said in a 132-page ruling.
The U.S. government is expected to appeal the decision.
The case against Assange centers on WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.
The documents include “approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables,” per the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused Assange of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to disclose sensitive information related to the national defense.
A federal grand jury last May indicted Assange on 18 counts related to unlawfully obtaining, receiving, and disclosing classified information, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion to crack a password hash stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used to transmit classified documents and communications.
Assange, who sought refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London between June 2012 and April 2019 to avoid a warrant against him, was arrested last year after Ecuador withdrew his diplomatic asylum. In May 2019, he was found guilty in a U.K. court of breaching bail conditions and sentenced to 50 weeks, following which the aforementioned indictment was returned in the U.S.
If convicted, Assange faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count with the exception of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The U.S. non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted, “The case against Julian Assange is the most dangerous threat to U.S. press freedom in decades. This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists.”