The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has received a late Christmas gift in the form of a U.K. judge ruling to block his extradition to the United States. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that although the U.S. prosecutors met the tests for the extradition to take place, they could not guarantee that Assange would not take his own life. She said:
“The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man fearful for his future … Faced with the conditions of near-total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP [Her Majesty’s Prison] Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the U.S. will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide, and for this reason, I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm, and I order his discharge.”
Over the last eight years, the world has watched as Julian Assange turned from a vibrant quasi-celebrity to a tired and clearly strained shadow of his former self. Reports of his growing depression have been widely circulated.
Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence for breaching his bail conditions when he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London back in 2012.
The law allows American prosecutors 14 days in which to lodge an appeal against the new ruling, meaning that he is unlikely to be released from prison right away. Should the appeal reverse the judge’s ruling, Mr. Assange would face an 18-count indictment, including charges of hacking military databases. It is thought that he could face a sentence of up to 175 years, although sources within the U.S. government have suggested it would be more like four to six years in total. The Justice Department said the charges “relate to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
A Presidential Pardon?
Much speculation has been made over whether President Trump would offer Assange a presidential pardon. There have been a number of high-profile campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic to convince Trump that the documents published by WikiLeaks were, in fact, exposing abuse by the U.S. military and intelligence services, and therefore in the public interest.
Whether the desired pardon will be forthcoming remains to be seen.
Should Joe Biden be sworn in on January 20, things may not look so good for Assange. In 2010, as vice president, Biden said: “Look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world … It has done damage.”
In Britain, several politicians and journalists have congratulated the judge’s ruling, including author and journalist Peter Hitchens (brother of the late Christopher Hitchens), and Conservative Member of Parliament David Davis, who said, “Extradition treaties should not be used for political prosecutions.”
Read more from Mark Angelides.