04 January 2021
A British judge has ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States on the grounds that his mental health condition would make him a suicide risk, given the detention conditions he would be likely to face in a "supermax" prison in the USA.
The USA can appeal the judgment, and it remains unclear whether Assange will remain in Belmarsh prison whilst an appeal is pending - his defence team has requested his release, while the USA is seeking to keep him locked up.
The ruling comes as something of a surprise. As the Don't Extradite Assange campaign remarks in a press release, Judge Vanessa Baraitser "accepted nearly every argument from U.S. government". Nevertheless, she:
"...agreed with the defense’s claims that the U.S. prison conditions Assange would face if he were extradited, including solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures, and extreme restrictions at ADX Florence, would drive Assange to suicide. She ruled it would therefore be unjust to extradite Assange to the U.S. and ordered his release."
The National Union of Journalists highlights that the reasoning set out in the ruling "leaves open the door for a future US administration to confect a similar indictment against a journalist."
See also: UK judge rejects extradition of 'suicide risk' Assange to United States (Reuters, link):
"U.S. prosecutors are set to appeal Monday’s decision to London’s High Court, and ultimately the case could go to the UK Supreme Court. Assange’s lawyers will seek bail on Wednesday for their client, who has spent most of the last decade either in prison or self-imposed confinement.
His legal team had argued the entire prosecution was politically motivated, powered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, and that Assange’s extradition would pose a severe threat to the work of journalists.
While Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected submissions that extradition should be barred because it would breach press freedom or Assange’s freedom of speech, she said there was a real risk he would commit suicide if he were held in a U.S. maximum security jail."
Judgment: The Government of the United States of America v Julian Paul Assange ( EW Misc 1 (MagC), pdf)
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