British judge rules against extradition for Wikileaks founder Assange

America's prison system, coupled with Assange's medical condition, could lead him to suicide, the judge said.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

America’s prison system is so punitive and dangerous that Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange might successfully commit suicide if he were to be tried, convicted and punished on various federal charges, a British judge found on Monday.

For that reason — and that reason alone — District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she could not order Assange to be extradited to the United States where he has been indicted on various federal computer crimes and espionage charges.

In a 140-page order issued on Monday, Baraitser took just one sentence to order Assange’s freedom from a British jail where he has been detained for months while awaiting a possible extradition to the United States.

The federal charges in the United States relate to Assange’s publication of thousands of diplomatic documents and other leaked materials that were handed to the Wikileaks organization by former U.S. Army service member Chelsea Manning in early 2010.

Prosecutors in the United States have accused Assange of conspiring with Manning over the release of the materials. Supporters say Assange was acting as a journalist when he obtained and published them.

For the first half hour of Monday’s hearing, Baraitser appeared to side with the U.S. government on many of its arguments for extradition, saying she was convinced Assange acted “well beyond” the scope of a journalist and that his decision to wholesale publish unedited material was not inline with British or American freedoms of speech.

But she ultimately was convinced by medical experts who testified that Assange had a history of depression and suicidal thoughts coupled with evidence that showed Assange had prepared a will and obtained at least one razor blade while detained at a British jail.

She raised concerns that if Assange was ultimately tried, convinced and punished in the United States, he would likely be sent to a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, the toughest facility under the U.S. federal government’s purview.

Baraitser said that prison, coupled with Assange’s various mental issues, could create a dangerous environment in which he would likely deteriorate to the point of suicide.

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” Baraitser wrote.

A representative of the U.S. government said it would appeal the judge’s decision within the next two weeks. A bail hearing was set for later Monday afternoon to determine if Assange would continue to be held in detention while the appeals process plays out.

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