On 4th January a British Judge rejected the US government’s request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder and whistleblower Julian Assange to The United States where he faces the charges of violating the Espionage Act.
The 49-year old Assange was charged by the US government for disclosing a series of leaks provided by the US Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning back in 2019, over documents related to Baghdad, Iraq and the Afghanistan War.
During the 2016 US election campaign, WikiLeaks also published confidential Democratic Party emails, showing that the party's national committee favoured Hillary Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
In 2019, the US govt pressed charges against Assange for violating the Espionage Act 1917. This led to various organisations and media houses like The New York Times and The Washington Post, to criticise the government’s decision to charge him, calling it an attack on the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees the Freedom of the Press.
The hearing began on 2nd May, 2019 on US government’s request to extradite him. On 4th January 2020, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against their request and said Assange would face "harsh" prison conditions if sent to the US and would likely take his own life. His unwell mental condition was also mentioned by Assange's psychiatrist Michael Kopelman during the judgement.
"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 in the ruling.
"I accept that there are entries in the notes which indicate a much better mood and lighter spirits at times, however the overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future. I find that Mr. Assange's risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial," the judge said.
However, the judgement was clearly made on the basis of Assange’s health and the judge did not rule on whether the accusations made by the US government are true or not, hence this judgement does not end the case here and the US Prosecutors have already made it clear that they would appeal the judgement making it likely that the case will go on for many more months and would be further appealed in the British Court.
But for now, the judge will consider a bail application from Assange's legal team to be filed at the Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday. Until then, he will continue to be held at Belmarsh prison, a maximum security facility. Meanwhile, Julian Assange's family have begun directly pleading with Trump to issue a pardon before he leaves the White House later this month.
Assange's fiancée, Stella Morris, made a direct plea to the President after the court's ruling, fearing US authorities would continue to pursue him.
Many showed support in the favour of the judgement
Whether or not the case was given a fixed direction, the people who wanted the authorities to Free Assange showed immense support and love after the judgement was made.
Video taken from outside the court showed supporters celebrating the ruling.
"We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA, but this does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial," Amnesty International wrote in a statement.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald who has had prior relationship with Assange and Wikileaks tweeted that the ruling was "great news" but suggested it was not a victory for press freedom as the judge indicated there were grounds to prosecute Assange in connection with his prior leaks.
American Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who now lives in Russia after leaking U.S. mass surveillance secrets in 2013, tweeted: "Let this be the end of it."
Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), wrote on Twitter the decision against extradition was "historical for the right to information”. “It does not add an additional threat to investigative journalism. An extradition would have set a precedent. For those who defend him, it is a huge relief," he added.
Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks Kristinn Hrafnsson said the day was a "win" for the 49-year-old Australian, but not for press freedom and journalism."It is a win for Julian Assange - but it is not necessarily a win for journalism ... the US side should drop the appeal and say enough," he said.
Rafael Correa, who had granted Assange asylum in the country's London embassy in 2012, said the blocking of his extradition was "great news". "Great news for the world! Congratulations to Julian, but also to his extraordinary team of lawyers," he said on Twitter.
On another positive note, the Australian PM Scott Morrison said that Assange is “Free to return home” to Australia once legal challenges against him are dealt with.
“Well, the justice system is making its way and we’re not a party to that. And like any Australian, they’re offered consular support and should, you know, the appeal fail, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian,” Morrison told local radio station 2GB.
Whilst the whistleblower extradition to the US has been rejected by the court, its likely that the US will appeal the judgement but meanwhile, his legal team will be filing a bail application this Wednesday.