The legal fight over the future of the WikiLeaks founder is expected to intensify as U.S. prosecutors stand ready to appeal the extradition decision.
The battle over Julian Assange’s future started in overdrive after a British judge ruled the founder of WikiLeaks should not be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges.
Monday’s decision in London saw District Judge Vanessa Baraitser dismiss the US extradition request, citing concerns about Assange’s mental health and the risk of suicide.
But Baraitser’s decision is unlikely to be the last word in the case. The legal fight is expected to intensify, with US prosecutors saying they will appeal and now have a two-week window to do so.
Assange’s attorney said he would seek bail on Wednesday, pending this appeal.
Born in Australia, Assange, whose trial began last February and ended in October, is currently being held in the London High Security Prison.
The early appeal by U.S. prosecutors is expected to keep her case in court for months.
Potential challenges could see the UK Supreme Court and even the European Court of Human Rights forced to deliver judgments.
If Monday’s decision is overturned, Assange’s case will ultimately be weighed by the British Home Secretary, who makes the final decision on the extraditions.
U.S. officials charge Assange with 18 offenses – 17 espionage charges and one computer abuse charge – related to WikiLeaks publishing vast treasures of confidential U.S. military documents and diplomatic cables 10 years ago.
The charges carry a maximum prison term of 175 years.
During his trial, prosecutors argued that the publication of the material, which exposed US wrongdoing in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, put lives at risk.
But the 49-year-old lawyers countered that the case against him was politically motivated, fueled by the Trump administration and represented an attack on journalism and free speech.
Baraitser rejected almost every argument from Assange’s legal team, but said she could not approve his extradition because there was a real risk that he would commit suicide in a US maximum security prison.
Assange, she said, sometimes suffered from severe depression and had been diagnosed with Asperger’s and autism, although this was a “high-level case of autism.”
A half razor blade was found in his London prison cell in May 2019 and he had spoken to medical staff about his suicidal thoughts.
“I find Assange’s risk of committing suicide if an extradition order were to be made to be substantial,” Baraitser said in his ruling.
“Faced with conditions of almost total isolation … I am convinced that the procedures [outlined by US authorities] won’t stop Assange from finding a way to kill himself.
Baraitser’s decision not to approve Assange’s extradition has been welcomed by supporters of Assange, as well as a range of rights groups and politicians.
But some expressed concern about the rationale for the decision.
“We do not share the judge’s opinion that this case is not politically motivated and does not concern freedom of expression,” said Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders.
“We continue to believe that Assange has been targeted for his contributions to journalism, and until the underlying issues here are addressed, other journalists, sources and editors remain at risk.