A London court has turned down a request for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges, over mental health concerns.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said on Monday at London’s Old Bailey court that Assange’s clinical depression could be compounded and he could commit suicide if extradited stateside.
The U.S. will appeal the decision.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents detailing alleged U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010 and 2011. The charges could lead to a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Lawyers for Assange, an Australian national, laid forth the argument that he was acting as a journalist and therefore entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech.
Judge Baraitser rejected this argument and said that Assange’s “conduct, if proved, would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”
The case is now likely to go to the U.K. supreme court. In the interim, Assange will remain in a U.K. prison. He has been held at London’s Belmarsh prison from April 2019.
Assange’s partner Stella Morris has been leading a campaign against his extradition. “His ‘crime’ is to have reported on matters the U.S. would rather have kept hidden from view,” Morris wrote in the campaign’s fundraiser site, which has surpassed its goal of collecting £175,000 ($239,000).
“He helped expose war crimes and human rights abuses. He revealed the killing of unarmed civilians and the torture of innocent people. No one has been held responsible for the serious crimes Julian has exposed. If he, an Australian citizen living in the U.K. can be successfully prosecuted, so too can journalists and publications everywhere.”