The Westminster Magistrates’ Court decided on January 4, 2021 that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States due to concerns over his mental health.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that although US prosecutors had met the requirements to extradite Mr. Assange for trial, the US would not be able to prevent him from taking his own life. However, Judge Baraitser agreed with U.S. lawyers’ opinions, saying Assange’s alleged actions would amount to offenses “that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.” (AP News. “UK judge refuses US extradition of WikiLeaks founder Assange.” January 4, 2021).
The United States federal grand jury indicted Mr. Assange on June 24, 2020 on 18 counts including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion; conspiracy to obtain, receive, and disclose national defense information; and unauthorized obtaining, receiving, and disclosure of national defense information. More specifically, the 18 counts are related to the 500,000 files that were published on WikiLeaks related to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars and Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The charges allege that Julian Assange communicated with multiple sources to receive these classified documents, including Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning before transitioning genders), a former intelligence analyst in the US Army who admits to leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents. Some of these documents became known as the “Iraq War Logs” and the “Afghan War Diaries.” Ms. Manning’s hope was to bring attention to the wrong-doings of the American government.
Chelsea Manning was first arrested in May 27, 2010, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison on July 30, 2013. Her sentence was later commuted on January 17, 2017 by President Obama to nearly seven years. She was later imprisoned again from March 2019 to March 2020 for refusing to testify against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks during a Grand Jury. She was also fined a total of $256,000.
Mr. Assange was taken back to Belmarsh Prison where he is being held for 50 weeks after breaking bail conditions. He had been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London from 2012 to 2019 to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he denied (BBC. “Julian Assange: WikiLeaks co-founder jailed over bail breach.” May 1, 2019). The sexual assault charges were later dropped in November of 2019 because so much time had passed. Mr. Assange’s lawyer stated they would apply for bail on Wednesday January 6, 2021 pending an appeal from the US, which was has been filed.
After the decision, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador extended asylum to Mr. Assange. “Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance,” President Obrador said. “We’ll give him protection” (Reuters, “Mexican president offers Assange asylum after U.S. extradition bid thwarted.” January 4, 2021).