Judge Vanessa Baraitser decided not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges at London’s Old Bailey courthouse on Monday.
Julian Assange, 49, is charged with 18 counts of conspiring to hack US government computers and the publication of confidential military records, including a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser found that extradition would be oppressive given Assange’s mental health. Baraitser felt Assange would be afforded all legal and constitutional protections while on trial in the US, she felt that conditions in the US prison system would exacerbate his already fragile mental health and potentially place his life at undue risk.
According to Assange’s legal team, he could face decades behind bars if found guilty of these charges, which also include the release of secret US diplomatic cables. The charges carry a theoretical maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, though prosecutors claim he would face no more than 63 months in jail.
Monday’s decision is expected to be appealed in London’s High Court, with the possibility it may be taken as far as the UK’s Supreme Court, delaying the legal saga which began with Assange’s arrest outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on April 11, 2019.
Assange fled to the embassy in 2012 when Swedish prosecutors sought his extradition over alleged sex crimes. He would ultimately spend seven years in exile at the embassy before being given up to UK police.
Throughout his trial, his family, legal team and supporters have said Assange’s detention at Belmarsh prison was tantamount to torture, citing his deteriorating physical and mental health, exacerbated by a Covid-19 outbreak at the high-security facility in south-east London.