A London court ruled on January 4 this year that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could not be extradited to the United States because of the hazard to his life. A decision to this effect was pronounced by Westminster Magistrates' Court judge Vanessa Baraitser. The hearing she presided took place at the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court. Under the 2007 British-American extradition agreement, Assange could be transferred to a US prison.
It was the risk to Assange's life that guided the refusal to extradite him to the United States. The judge acknowledged that he suffered from autism and clinical depression, and was also suicidal. For instance, a razor blade was found in Assange's cell in the British Belmarsh prison, where he had been kept since April 2019. The Australian also got around to draw up his will. Judge Baraitser mentioned financier Jeffrey Epstein's suicide in a US prison as an example of American prison system's failure to effectively prevent suicide.
The court also held that the WikiLeaks founder should remain in prison as long as the US prosecutor's office needs to file an appeal, which US officials have already announced. This means that the 49-year-old WikiLeaks founder's case is far from being over and may last for years. So far, the London court has denied Assange bail. At the same time, the emphasis is placed on the fact the Australian deserves no trust and cannot be released on bail, as he is convinced to be "standing above the law".
Let's recall that the US Department of Justice has brought 18 criminal charges against the founder of WikiLeaks, making him face up to 175 years in prison. Assange was particularly charged with crimes related to the biggest-ever disclosure of classified information with several agencies, including the Pentagon, CIA and State Department. Assange's actions are believed to have endangered the lives of over 100 people around the world who worked for or collaborated with the US government. More than 50 people named in classified documents released by Assange have been forced to seek asylum in the United States.
During the court hearings, the prosecuting attorney insisted on "formidable obstacles" to Assange's release, indicating that he would attempt to avoid prosecution, as he did in 2012, having found shelter at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he spent almost seven years. Britain's The Guardian argued that the American intelligence serviced discussed the possibility poisoning him there. After having been ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange was arrested by police for failing to appear at the London court on a 2012 warrant, as well as in response to Washington's 2018 extradition enquiry to British authorities.
Assange denies all the charges against him, being supported, in particular, by Amnesty International, which emphasizes that the prosecution and possible trials have political grounds that cast doubt on the right to freedom of speech. Assange's supporters demand his immediate release. All the more so as Mexico, represented by its President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has officially announced readiness to grant political asylum to the Australian and provide him with proper protection.
Moreover, as reported by Northern Ireland's The Irish News, former US National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and his informant Chelsea Manning were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year. This came in a letter to the Nobel Committee by the 1976 winner of this honorary award, Community for Peace People co-founder Mairead Corrigan. She particularly noted that Snowden was not able to remain silent, knowing that the US government illegally monitors its citizens and other countries' top officials; Assange fulfilled his publisher duty when revealing facts about war crimes in Iran and Afghanistan; and Manning, being an American soldier in Iraq, could not take the murder of local civilians.
It is worth noting here that Assange's arrest and extradition demands have split America itself. Some consider the WikiLeaks founder a traitor, others regard him as a hero. By the way, the leading American media threw their weight behind the Australian, warning that the trial against him would violate the first Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. Their stance is understandable in many ways: after all, if Assange is brought to justice, The New York Times and The Washington Post may face charges over publishing WikiLeaks materials.
As things stand with Julian Assange at the moment, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, found himself in a difficult situation, because the 2016 election campaign saw him call the WikiLeaks materials "a treasure trove". The head of the White House even offered to pardon Assange if he provided information about the cyber attack against the Democratic Party before the presidential election. And now, having lost the November 3 election last year, Trump apparently has other things to worry about. It is yet to be seen how US President-elect Joe Biden will act towards the WikiLeaks founder.
Today, after the London court has refused to extradite Assange to the United States, it is also unclear how the US-British relations, which are traditionally dubbed "special", will develop in the future. After leaving the European Union (Brexit) official London cannot spoil relations with Washington, because Britain has ended up nearly alone and largely relies on the United States. Owing to President Trump's friendly relations with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the two country's bilateral relations were adequate either. It’s not at all clear how Joe Biden will behave towards Britain, and he has already criticized Johnson for his way of implementing Brexit. So the "Assange case" may still come back to haunt official London later.