Julian Assange makes bid for freedom after judge blocked extradition to US

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ikileaks founder Julian Assange is making a bid for freedom this morning after a judge said he should not be extradited to the US to face trial because of suicide fears.   District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled on Monday that Assange would be at risk of killing himself in the harsh conditions of an Amercian prison, refusing to send him for trial on hacking and espionage allegations.   The 49-year-old activist is accused of conspiring with military analyst Chelsea Manning in the leak and publication of around 250,000 military cables and classified documents in 2010 and 2011.  

Judge Baraitser said Assange could face a fair trial in the US if extradited, and dismissed his arguments that his alleged activities amounted to simple journalism.   But she found extradition would be “oppressive” as Assange is suicidal, has begun making plans to kill himself, and could not be adequately protected while in isolation in a high-security US prison.   Assange is due to return to court this morning to make a bail application, seeking to be set free from prison while the US government appeals Judge Baraitser’s decision.  

Edward Fitzgerald QC, who has led Assange’s legal team, said on Monday they will prepare arguments centred on Assange’s mental health and the conditions he is currently facing inside HMP Belmarsh, a maximum security prison in southeast London.   The case stems from the mass leak through Wikileaks of secret documents a decade ago, shedding light on US foreign policy, the rendition of prisoners heading to Guantanamo Bay, and the handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Assange claims he was working as a journalist and exercising his right to free speech, but faced allegations he had helped to illegally hack the documents and breached the Espionage Act.  

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His supporters say if Assange faces trial, it would compromise the free speech First Amendment in the US Constitution and could pave the way for the prosecution of journalists who criticize the government. 

In 2012 Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge while facing extradition to Sweden on sex assault claims, insisting he feared being sent on to the US to face a trial over the Wikileaks publications.   During nearly seven years living in the embassy, the Swedish allegations were dropped but an 18-count indictment against Assange was filed at a court in Virginia.   When Assange’s asylum was revoked by Ecuador in 2019, he was jailed for a UK bail breach and has remained in prison to await the outcome of extradition proceedings.  

In her ruling on Monday morning, Judge Baraitser said: “I am satisfied Mr Assange has the intellect and determination to circumvent suicide prevention measures, concluding US prison processes “would not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide”.   “I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of Mr Assange’s mental health”, she said.   Assange was then remanded back into custody until today’s hearing.  

The US government appeal against the extradition decision is due to go to the Court of Appeal, while it will be open to the losing side to appeal today’s bail decision.  

Assange’s partner Stella Moris is expected to be among the supporters attending Westminster magistrates court for today’s hearing.  

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