Julian Assange Should Not Be Extradited to U.S., London Court Rules

Julian Assange
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Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder would have faced a total of 17 charges of espionage and computer hacking in the U.S. and a sentence of up to 175 years in a high-security jail. 

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks to have escaped extradition to the U.S. to face espionage charges following the dramatic ruling of a British judge on Monday.

The judge — Vanessa Baraister — rejected Washington's request to extradite Assange, who enraged the U.S. after WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, bringing to light war reported crimes and human rights abuses committed by American forces.

Although Baraister largely dismissed the defence's case that charges against Assange were politically-motivated and that he wouldn't face a fair trial in the U.S., in the end she claimed that it was Assange's mental health that was the central issue. Crucially, she said he was at high risk of suicide and that she wasn't satisfied procedures described by American authorities would prevent him from ending his own life in a U.S. prison. The U.S. is expected to appeal the decision.

Assange faces a total of 17 charges of espionage and computer hacking in the U.S. and could have been sentenced to up to 175 years in a high-security prison.

Among the leaked contents published by WikiLeaks was a 39-minute video of a U.S. military helicopter firing over and killing more than a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists. All were unarmed.

The extradition case has become a lightning rod for the issue of press freedom, with Assange's supporters — including the likes of veteran journalist John Pilger — arguing that it threatened the safety of any reporter who challenged power.

Assange has been held in the U.K.'s high-security Belmarsh prison since April 2019, when police forcibly carried him out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been granted asylum in 2012.