A British judge ruled Monday that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States to face trial on charges that he engaged in espionage and deliberately published documents designed to undermine and imperil the American military.
The judge did not allow Assange to go free, however. A decision on that will likely come on Wednesday when Assange has a bail hearing.
“In a mixed ruling for Assange and his supporters, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected defense arguments that the 49-year-old Australian faces a politically motivated American prosecution that rides roughshod over free-speech protections,” the Associated Press reported. “But she said Assange’s precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of ‘near-total isolation’ he would face in a U.S. prison.”
Assange has repeatedly said that he will commit suicide if held in solitary confinement in an American prison, something likely to happen given that he is a high-value prisoner. His defense also presented evidence that he suffers from severe depression and some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder — conditions that might cause him to deteriorate mentally and emotionally.
The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts of espionage and one count of “computer misuse” stemming from his involvement with Chelsea Manning’s (then Bradley Manning) efforts to leak classified documents and video about American military operations in Iraq. According to the U.S. government, Manning was unable to break into some of the military’s secure files and Assange provided Manning with advice, making him culpable in Manning’s own espionage.
Manning was convicted of leaking classified government documents and sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence before he left office in 2017 though he did not issue a full pardon.
Assange was arrested back in April of 2019 and, since then, has been held in a British prison awaiting news of whether he would be sent to the United States to stand trial, and face a maximum sentence of 175 years.
Monday’s ruling, keeping Assange in the UK, though, is just a partial victory. The judge did not make a ruling on whether Assange’s actions, as the founder of Wikileaks, were protected as “reporting” or “publishing” or whether Assange would be able to use the First Amendment as a defense to the espionage charges.
“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised,” the U.S. government said in a statement, recognizing the partial victory. “In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech.”
“Lawyers for the U.S. government said they would appeal the decision, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it would continue to seek Assange’s extradition,” the AP reported.
Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, was optimistic, telling the media that he hopes the United States will stand down.
“We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further,” he said.
There are other options on the table for Assange. His associates have reportedly been asking for a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump, who will leave office in January and is likely to pardon a number of people on his way out, and it is not known how incoming president Joe Biden feels about prosecuting Assange.