UK decide to rule on US extradition bid for Julian Assange

London, January 4 

A British judge will decide Monday whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges over the site’s publication of classified American military documents a decade ago. 

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to give her ruling at Londons Central Criminal Court, following a three-week extradition hearing in the fall.

US prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In closing submissions, Assange’s legal team accused the United States of an “extraordinary, unprecedented and politicised” prosecution that sought to “criminalise obtaining and publishing information relating to national security.”  

The defence argued that extradition threatens Assange’s human rights because he risks “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhumane conditions” that would exacerbate his severe depression and other mental health problems. 

Lawyers for the US government deny that Assange is being prosecuted merely for publishing the leaked documents, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The judge’s decision will be a major moment in Assange’s decade-long legal limbo in Britain — but not the final chapter. If Baraitser approves extradition, the order must be made by British Home Secretary Priti Patel. And whichever side loses the case is likely to appeal.

Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, who had two sons with him while he lived in the embassy, has appealed to President Donald Trump to pardon Assange before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.

The prosecution of Assange has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines free speech around the world.

“The mere fact that this case has made it to court, let alone gone on this long, is an historic, large-scale attack on freedom of speech,” said WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson. “This is a fight that affects each and every persons right to know and is being fought collectively.”

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010 when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, to avoid being sent to Sweden, Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was beyond the reach of the UK and Swedish authorities — but also effectively a prisoner, unable to leave the tiny diplomatic mission in London’s tony Knightsbridge area.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail in 2012.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange remains in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, brought to court in a prison van throughout his extradition hearing. —AP

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