A British judge on Monday blocked WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange‘s extradition to the United States to face espionage charges, finding he was at serious risk of suicide. 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 a decade ago.
Lawyer for US authorities is to appeal against the ruling, which was delivered at the central criminal court by the district judge, Vanessa Baraitser.
Delivering her ruling the judge said the WikiLeaks founder was likely to be held in conditions of isolation in a so-called supermax prison in the US and procedures described by US authorities would not prevent him from potentially finding a way to take his own life.
“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,” she said.
In court, Assange wiped his forehead as the decision was announced while his fiancee Stella Moris burst into tears and was embraced by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson.
Outside the Old Bailey court in central London, his supporters who had gathered since early morning erupted in cheers and shouted “Free Assange!” Assange and his legal team have long argued that the protracted case, which has become a cause celebre for media freedom, was politically motivated.
Monday’s ruling follows more than a decade of legal controversies. However, the US government has given notice it will challenge the decision and has two weeks to lodge its grounds to appeal.
The judge’s decision, focusing on Assange’s health, came after she knocked down one argument after another made last year by Assange’s lawyers. Sending him to the US would not breach a bar on extradition for “political offenses” she said, and she had no reason to doubt that “the usual constitutional and procedural protections” would be applied to a trial he might face in the US.
But she accepted the evidence of prominent medical experts, including details of how Assange had suffered from depression while in prison in London.
“The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man who is genuinely depressed about his future,” said Baraitser.
The case against the 49-year-old relates to WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.
Prosecutors say Assange helped the US defense analyst Chelsea Manning breach the US Espionage Act, was complicit in hacking by others and published classified information that endangered informants.
Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US computers and says there is no evidence anyone’s safety was compromised. His lawyers argue the prosecution is politically motivated and that he is being pursued because WikiLeaks published US government documents that revealed evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses.