LONDON – A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges over the publication of secret U.S. documents a decade ago, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
In a mixed ruling for Assange and his supporters, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected defense arguments that the 49-year-old Australian faces a politically motivated American prosecution that rides roughshod over free-speech protections. But she said Assange's precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in 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," the judge said.
Lawyers for the U.S. government said they would appeal the decision, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it would continue to seek Assange’s extradition.
“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised," it said in a statement. "In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial and freedom of speech.”
Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was providing Assange with consular assistance. Morrison also said Assange would be free to return to Australia if he wins his court case.
“Assuming if that all that turns out, then he’s like any other Australian. He’d be free to return home if he wished,” Morrison told Melbourne Radio 3AW.