In a surprise ruling on Monday, British District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the United States government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on espionage charges.
Baraitser did not object to the overall charges, but ruled that conditions in US prisons would be too harsh, and that Assange would likely kill himself if he were extradited.
Baraitser rejected defense arguments that the charges against Assange were politically motivated and a violation of free speech.
“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,” the judge said, according to the Associated Press.
She said that Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to take his own life.
The US government has promised to appeal the decision. At a bail hearing on Wednesday, Assange’s lawyers plan to ask for his release. Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified” that he will not be extradited.
“We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further,” he said.
In court, lawyers for Assange argued that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech when he published evidence of US war crimes that were deemed to be classified
Despite ruling to reject the extradition, the Judge essentially agreed with the complaints of US prosecutors. Saying that Assange’s actions “amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”
She also said she trusted that the US court system would give him a fair trial, while at the same time admitting that prison conditions in the US would be too harsh.
“I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. … However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder,” the judge said in her ruling.
Professor Michael Kopelman, an emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, said that Assange has been hearing voices and has confessed to a priest that he was making preparations to kill himself. These preparations included drafting his will and writing a goodbye letter to his family and friends.
“He reported auditory hallucinations, which were voices either inside or outside his head, somatic hallucinations, funny bodily experiences, these have now disappeared. He also has a long history of musical hallucinations, which is maybe a separate phenomenon, that got worse when he was in prison,” Kopelman said.
The voices that Assange is hearing are saying things like “you are dust, you are dead, we are coming to get you.”
Kopelman said that the most severe hallucinations have begun to diminish, but Assange is still severely depressed and at a high risk of suicide. He also added that if Assange were extradited the risk would increase further.
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