WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Cannot Be Extradited to US, British Judge Rules

A British judge rejected the United States' request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on face espionage charges Monday, reports the Associated Press, reasoning the controversial figure would likely kill himself if held in a U.S. prison. While District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the defense that the Australian, 49, faces politically-motivated prosecution from the U.S. that violates free speech protections, she did rule that Assange's mental health would likely deteriorate to a dangerous place under the "near total isolation" of a U.S. prison.

"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 said, calling him a "depressed and sometimes despairing man" who had the "intellect and determination" to harm himself despite suicide prevention measures in American prisons.

The U.S. government vowed to appeal the decision, and Assange's lawyers reportedly said they would ask for his release from the London prison in which he has been held for almost two years Wednesday at a bail hearing. Assange's partner, Stella Moris, with whom he has two sons, told the AP outside court that the ruling was "the first step towards justice," but there was a lot more to come. "I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home," she continued. "Today is not that day, but that day will come soon." She begged U.S. President Donald Trump to pardon Assange before he leaves office later this month. "Mr. President, tear down these prison walls," she said. "Let our little boys have their father."

Assange's American lawyer, Barry Pollack, added to the outlet that his legal team was "enormously gratified" by the court's decision and hoped the American courts would follow suit. "We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court's ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further," he said.

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Assange faces 17 espionage charges back in the U.S., as well as one charge of computer misuse following WikiLeaks' publication of leaked military and government documents a decade ago, which his lawyers argue were actions protected by the First Amendment as he was acting as a journalist when he published the documents exposing U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. If convicted on all counts, Assange faces a maximum sentence of 175 years. U.S. lawyers have argued that Assange is not having his First Amendment rights violated, but that he is being largely prosecuted for his involvement in theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.