Baraitser rejected arguments by Assange’s legal team that the 49-year-old faces a politically motivated US prosecution that ignores free speech protections.
But he said Assange’s precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in a US prison.
“I find that Mr. Assange’s mental condition is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said.
She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes desperate man” who had the “intellect and determination” to evade any suicide prevention measures taken by the US prison authorities.
Australia sat quietly on the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court as it learned the news.
Outside of court, Moris said the ruling was “the first step towards justice,” but that it was not yet time to celebrate.
“I was hoping that today would be the day that Julian would come home,” she said.
“Today is not that day, but that day will come soon.”
The final chapter hasn’t even opened yet
The ruling marks a dramatic moment in Assange’s years-long legal battles in Britain, though it is likely not his final chapter.
The US government said it would appeal the decision.
Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.
It is unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will continue the prosecution, initiated under President Donald Trump.
Assange’s US attorney, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously pleased” by the British court’s decision.
“We hope that after considering the British court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case,” he said.
Moris urged Trump to pardon Assange before he leaves office later this month.
“Mr. President, tear down these prison walls,” he said.
“May our little children have their father.”
Facing 175 years in prison
US prosecutors have charged Assange with 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Assange’s lawyers argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of free speech for publishing documents exposing US military irregularities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawyers for the United States government denied that Assange was being prosecuted simply for posting, saying the case “is largely based on his illegal involvement” in the theft of diplomatic cables and military files by the army intelligence analyst. American Chelsea Manning.
The British judge sided with American lawyers on that point, saying that Assange’s actions, if proven, “would amount to crimes in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of expression.” He also said that the US judicial system would give him a fair trial.
The defense also argued during a three-week hearing in the fall that Assange risked “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhuman conditions” if he was sent to the United States.
The judge agreed that US prison conditions would be oppressive. She accepted expert witness evidence that Assange had a depressive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder.
“I accept that oppression as an impediment to extradition requires a high threshold … However, I am satisfied that, under these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘resolute determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder, “the judge said in her ruling.
Rights groups praise latest victory
Assange’s prosecution has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines freedom of expression around the world.
They welcomed the judge’s decision, although it was not based on freedom of expression.
“It is a great relief to anyone who cares about journalists’ rights,” the Press Freedom Foundation tweeted.
Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, who wanted to question him on allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women.
In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge within the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was out of reach of British and Swedish authorities, but was also a prisoner, unable to leave the small diplomatic mission in London’s Knightsbridge area.
The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police promptly arrested him for breaching bail in 2012.
Sweden abandoned sex crime investigations in November 2019 because a long time had passed, but Assange has remained in London’s Belmarsh high-security prison during his extradition hearing.