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UK courts block Julian Assange’s extradition to the US due to poor mental health

A London judge has rejected Julian Assange’s extradition request on the basis of poor mental health.

Following a four-week extradition hearing, a UK judge has rejected a US government request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder on the basis of his mental health.

Assange, who is currently facing espionage and hacking charges, awaited the decision while in isolation at London’s high-security Belmarsh prison.

julian assange
Image: Elizabeth Cook, AP

District judge Vanessa Baraitser’s rejection of the request ultimately spared Assange prosecution through the US court system. The Australian ex-pat faces up to 175 years in maximum-security prison if he were to return to the United States.

Accused of illegally obtaining, receiving, and disclosing classified information, Assange currently faces 18 separate charges through the Federal Courts. According to his indictment, Assange colluded with former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning to reveal documents relating to national defence. This included the names of sources who provided information to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2012, Assange was granted asylum in London’s Ecuadorean embassy, however, was forcibly removed in April 2019. He has remained in a London prison ever since.

The decision at Old Bailey Court came as a shock to many due to Judge Baraitser’s rejection of almost all defences made by Assange’s legal team. In her ruling, Baraitser claimed that his alleged activities “went beyond the mere encouragement of a whistle-blower” or above a journalistic or political duty.

Despite this, the judge rejected the extradition on the basis of Assange’s mental health, claiming he would be of high suicide risk if returned to the US. “The extradition should be refused because it would be unjust and oppressive by reason of Mr Assange’s mental condition and the high risk of suicide,” she said.

Although the US government announced they would be appealing the decision, Judge Baraitser holds the jurisdiction to discharge Assange on the grounds of mental health, as per the UK Extradition Act 2003.

Baraitser commented, “the overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future.”

Assange’s deteriorating mental health was backed by a plethora of medical evidence, including a report from Professor Kopelman who diagnosed the whistleblower with recurrent depressive disorder. According to the report, Assange suffers from hallucinations, loss of sleep, and suicidal thoughts “hundreds of times a day.”

The Judge also assessed the conditions of the US Administrative Maximum Facility prison in Florence Colo, where Assange would likely have been sentenced under “special administrative measures”. The prison restricts social visits and human contact, with inmates only permitted to leave their isolated cells three times a week.

The United States justice system’s history of ill-equipped suicide prevention was also raised in Assange’s defence, with the death of Jeffrey Epstein referenced as an example.

Following the announcement, President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador extended his support and offered political asylum for Assange following the trial. During his Monday morning news conference, the President stated: “Assange is a journalist and deserves a second chance… we’ll give him protection.”

According to the Washington Post, Assange was returned back to Belmarsh prison on Monday. His legal team will be requesting a release on bail while waiting for the US appeal.