On January 4, the UK Court ruled that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States of America to face criminal charges including breaking a spy law, as his present mental health complications suggest the risk of suicide attempt.
However, USA has stated that it would pursue the extradition and US prosecutors are ready to appeal the decision to London’s High Court.
Who is Julian Assange?
The 49-year-old Australian-born Assange has been accused of 18 offences regarding the release by WikiLeaks of a wide range of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables that may endanger the safety of lives. Assange, who spent a significant part of the last decade either in prison or self-imposed confinement, has been denied bail and remains in jail.
The US Justice Department claims that it has won on all the legal points, including political motivation and freedom of speech-related arguments, and thus, it would continue to seek Assange’s extradition.
USA’s government take:
The Obama administration did not prosecute Assange due to concerns about the precedent the case could set in free speech and journalism. Assange’s legal team has held the outgoing US President Donald Trump responsible for pressuring the concerning launch of the US effort for extradition, which could cause a grave threat to press freedom.
However, the White House has not issued any immediate comment on the ruling and Trump administration has given mixed messages. In contrast, the President-elect Joe Biden’s side has refrained from commenting.
Trump had shown his approval to WikiLeaks shortly before the 2016 presidential election for releasing hacked emails which landed his opponent Hillary Clinton in an embarrassing position. However, after Trump took office, his first CIA director Mike Pompeo stated that WikiLeaks was “a non-state hostile intelligence service”.
Ruling of UK Judge and further deteriorating condition of Julian:
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that her judgment was based only on the possibility of Assange attempting suicide if kept in a US maximum security jail as he suffered from severe depression at intervals and had been diagnosed with autism.
In May 2019, half a razor blade had been discovered in his London jail cell. Assange also told the medical staff that he was having suicidal thoughts and making plans for the same. Baraitser also said that Assange made regular calls to the Samaritans suicide-prevention charity from prison.
According to Baraitser, “I find that Mr Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial. The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future.”
For Assange’s supporters, the ruling was a victory, but the threat of extradition still looms large over his head. His partner Stella Moris said, “I call on the President of the United States to end this now: Mr President, tear down these prison walls, let our little boys have their father. Free Julian, free the press, free us all.”
People in support considers Julian as “Hero”:
Assange supporters consider him to be an anti-establishment hero, a victim for exposing US wrongdoings in Afghanistan and Iraq. Supporters claim his prosecution is to be a politically motivated assault on the press and freedom of speech.
However, the US prosecutors and Western security officials regard him to be a dangerous enemy of the state whose reckless actions in leaking classified information, has imperilled the lives of the agents, named in the material.
On the other hand, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that his country would extend political asylum to Assange and he is in favour of pardoning him.
History of Legal trails with different governments:
Assange’s legal battles began when Sweden sought his extradition from Britain over alleged sex crimes. He lost the case in 2012 and fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London and stayed there for seven years. In April 2019, Assange was finally dragged out from there and imprisoned for breaching British bail conditions. The Swedish case has been dropped till that time. The US Justice Department formally asked Britain last June to extradite him.
However, Baraitser has rejected Trump’s team’s claims for pressuring the US prosecutors due to lack of evidence of hostility on Trump’s part and shunned the claims of the case being political and threatening freedom of speech.
She also said that Assange’s chances of getting a fair trial in the USA were adequate though she believes that Assange had breached investigative journalism boundaries. But she also feels that if Assange is found guilty, he would be sent to ADX Florence maximum security prison (SAM) in almost complete isolation where he could devise a plan of committing suicide, despite their preventive measures.