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A British judge has rejected the US extradition request WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying it would be “oppressive” due to his mental health.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Monday that Assange will likely commit suicide if sent to the United States.

The US government said it would appeal the decision.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self-imposed exile since 2012. (AP Photo / Frank Augstein, file) (AP)

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.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argue that he was acting as a journalist and that he is entitled to First Amendment protections of free speech for publishing leaked documents exposing US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The judge rejected the defense claims that Assange was protected by freedom of expression guarantees, saying that his “conduct, if proven, would amount to crimes in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of expression.”

Inside the US supermax prison that Julian Assange faces

But he said Assange was suffering from clinical depression that would be compounded by the isolation he would likely face in a US prison.

The judge said Assange had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures that authorities might take.

Important moment in 10-year limbo

Baraitser’s ruling follows a three-week extradition hearing in the fall.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argued that he was acting as a journalist and that he is entitled to First Amendment protections for free speech for publishing leaked documents exposing US military irregularities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Julian Assange’s girlfriend, Stella Moris, arrives at the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)
A supporter of Julian Assange wears a face mask with his name outside the Old Bailey in London. (AP)

In final filings, Assange’s legal team accused the United States of an “extraordinary, unprecedented and politicized” prosecution that sought to “criminalize the collection and publication of information related to ‘national security’.”

The defense argued that the extradition threatens Assange’s human rights because he risks “an extremely disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhuman conditions” that would exacerbate his severe depression and other mental health problems.

Lawyers for the US government deny that Assange is being prosecuted simply for publishing the leaked documents, saying the case “is largely based on his illegal involvement” in the theft of diplomatic cables and military files by the analyst from US Army intelligence Chelsea Manning.

The judge’s decision is an important moment in Assange’s decade-long legal limbo in Britain, but not the final chapter, with the United States ready to appeal.

A man wearing a coat with the words ‘Truth on Trial’ takes part in a protest when Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)
A man participates in a protest when Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021, in London, England. (Getty)

Assange’s partner Stella Moris, who had two children with him while living at the embassy, ​​has asked President Donald Trump to pardon Assange before Trump leaves office on January 20.

Assange’s prosecution has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines freedom of expression around the world.

“The mere fact that this case has gone to court, let alone that it has lasted so long, is a historic, large-scale attack on freedom of expression,” said WikiLeaks spokeswoman Kristinn Hrafnsson. “This is a fight that affects the right of each and every person to know and is being fought collectively.”

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, to avoid being sent to Sweden, Assange sought refuge within the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​where he was out of reach of the British and Swedish authorities, but was also a prisoner, unable to leave the small diplomatic mission in the Knightsbridge area in London.

Piers Corbyn takes part in a protest when Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021, in London, England. (Getty)

The relationship between Assange and his hosts finally soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for missing bail in 2012.

In this September 2020 file photo, supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange take part in a protest in front of the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, in London. (AP)

Sweden abandoned sex crime investigations in November 2019 because a long time had passed, but Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh high-security prison, taken to court in a prison van during his extradition hearing.


www.9news.com.au

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