A UK court has ruled against extraditing Julian Assange to the United States where he faces espionage charges.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser gave the ruling Monday at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London, where she ruled that, although American authorities had brought forth the case “in good faith,” and that Mr Assange’s actions went beyond simply journalistic, an extradition order would be “oppressive” because of Mr Assange’s mental health.
Monday’s ruling can still be appealed by the U.S. government which claims Mr Assange leaked U.S. secrets by publishing U.S. military and diplomatic cables using Wikileaks.
Prosecutors acting on behalf of the U.S. government have already said they will appeal the decision. They have fifteen days to do this.
If successful, Mr Assange, 49, could be extradited to the U.S., where he risks a maximum of 175 years jail term if convicted on the 17 espionage charges and a charge of computer misuse for which he was indicted.
Defence attorneys have argued that Mr Assange was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents.
Mr Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been in a British prison since April 2019, after his removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he took refuge for seven years over fears of possible extraditions to the U.S. related to his work with WikiLeaks and to Sweden over a sexual assault case that was subsequently dropped in 2015.
The hearing of the Australian national, a former computer hacker, in the UK has been stalled since last February due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The United States has been on Mr Assange’s trail for years after WikiLeaks began, in 2010, leaking a trove of American government diplomatic cables which indicted the U.S. military for wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan and accused the country of diplomatic connivance.
In Nigeria, the contents of the leaks, published by the defunct Next Newspapers, also indicted several Nigerian politicians for passing information to Western diplomats, especially the United States.
But the U.S. argued that Mr Assange’s exclusives, especially the leak of 700,000 classified documents handed to WikiLeaks by former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) in 2010, threaten its citizens and national security.
The case has since pitted national security against freedom of expression, with rights activist saying Mr Assange was advancing investigative journalism, while critics said he went overboard.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has, nonetheless, praised the British court’s decision to deny the United States’ request to extradite Mr Assange, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to drop all charges against him.
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