Wikileaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face charges related to espionage and hacking of government computers, a judge in the United Kingdom has ruled on Monday, according to Reuters. Assange has been in a prison in Britain since April 2019, after he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he took refuge for seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden.
The 49-year-old faces 18 charges in the United States in connection with the 5 lakh secret files on American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, released between 2010 and 2011. He is also accused of soliciting and publishing such information.
Monday’s ruling was announced at the central criminal court by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, The Guardian reported. The ruling, however, is likely to see an appeal.
The development came after weeks of proceedings at the court last year, along with campaigns from Assange’s supporters who have denounced the charges imposed by the United States. Over the course of the hearings, Assange’s counsel had called witnesses who told the court that Wikileaks had played an important role in exposing the manner in which the US was involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
During the hearing on Monday, the judge said the Australian publisher’s extradition would be “oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge”, according to AFP. If detained, she said that Assange faced the “bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to remove physical contact and reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum”.
“He faces these prospects as someone with a diagnosis of clinical depression and persistent thoughts of suicide,” the judge of the court in the United Kingdom said. “I am satisfied that the risk that Mr Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one.” If convicted in the United States, the Australian may be jailed for up to 175 years.
Following the judgement, Assange’s supporters gathered outside the court cheered and exclaimed: “Free Assange!”
Assange suffers from a respiratory ailment that makes him vulnerable to contracting Covid-19, which has infected many prisoners at the Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London. He was jailed after skipping bail in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was facing a rape investigation. The rape charges were dropped in November 2019.
In 2019, 60 doctors wrote to British Home Secretary Priti Patel saying that Assange’s health had deteriorated so much that he might die in prison.