Julian Assange extradition blocked as UK judge cites health concerns

File: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters in London | Photo: AP
A London judge blocked Julian Assange’s extradition to the US on health grounds, a victory for the WikiLeaks founder after close to a decade of imprisonment or self-imposed exile.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled Monday that his extradition to face espionage charges would be oppressive because of the 49-year-old’s mental health, saying he was clearly “a depressed and sometimes despairing man genuinely fearful about his future.”

Assange could potentially be released from the high-security Belmarsh prison as soon as Wednesday, when his lawyers will return to court to make what they say are the “strongest grounds to granting bail” in light of Monday’s ruling.

Baraitser spent the first part of her ruling dismissing Assange’s arguments that prosecutors faced political pressure to send him to the US and that he couldn’t receive a fair trial there. She said, however, that Assange would face “conditions of significant isolation” in US prison. She cited Jeffrey Epstein’s 2019 death as an example of when preventative measures weren’t able to protect inmates from suicide.

“In these harsh conditions, Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single-minded determination’ of his autism-spectrum disorder,” Baraitser said.

The ruling is “going to be difficult to appeal because it’s a factual decision on his mental health,” said Ben Keith, an extradition lawyer in London who doesn’t represent anyone in the case. Lawyers for the US immediately said they would appeal the decision, a process which could take years. 

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