Judge Refuses to Allow WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Extradition to the US, Citing Suicide Risk

4.1.21

Longtime Julian Assange supporter Elsa Collins near the Old Bailey today, January 4, 2021, after District Judge Vanessa Baraitser unexpectedly prevented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In a totally unexpected ruling in the Old Bailey this morning, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US to proceed, on the basis that, as court-watcher Kevin Gosztola described it in a tweet, she was “satisfied that procedures described by [the] US would not prevent Assange from finding a way to commit suicide in [a] US supermax prison.”

Gosztola added, powerfully, “The United States government’s mass incarceration system just lost them their case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”

In an unjust world in which good news seems to be in ever dwindling supply, this is extraordinarily good news. The US has 14 days to appeal, but it is uncertain if they will do so, as the mental health and suicide risk argument is essentially unassailable, and has been used effectively before — in the cases of Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love, who both have Asperger’s Syndrome. Julian’s Asperger’s has, to my mind, rarely been adequately recognized before, until it was diagnosed by an expert witness in his extradition hearing in September, which now seems to have played a key role in preventing his extradition.

As Kevin Gosztola subsequently explained in a follow-up article for Shadowproof, accepting that Julian “would likely be imprisoned at a supermax prison in the US under special administrative measures (SAMs)”, Judge Baraitser stated, “I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder,” adding, “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.”

It is to be hoped that the British government will now recognize that it can no longer hold Julian, who has been imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in south east London since May 2019, when his asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy was revoked by a new, pro-US regime. A bail hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, when, it is reasonable to expect, Julian will walk free.

While this is undoubtedly a case of a cloud with a silver lining, the cloud still remains. As Judge Baraitser ran though the main points of her ruling this morning — before dropping her bombshell — she had led everyone to conclude that she was intending to approve Julian’s extradition, as she methodically refuted every other challenge put forward by his defence team, including, most contentiously, her claim that the US-UK extradition treaty’s clear prohibition of extradition for political purposes did not apply.

As a result, the chilling effect of the extradition request on the freedom of the press remains, essentially, unchallenged, but this is an ongoing struggle, as advocates for press freedom constantly need to remind our leaders that having government wrongdoing exposed by whistleblowing, and published by the press is what differentiates liberal democracies from dictatorships.

Tomorrow we can resume that crucial struggle, but today we should all take a moment to celebrate another significant blow to the US-UK Extradition Treaty, and another unmitigated condemnation of the brutality of the US prison system — as well as the return of hope to a long-demonized individual, Julian Assange, who may now, finally, be reunited with his partner Stella Moris and their two young sons.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

25 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Good news is so rare in general — and particularly, it seems, in these dark, cold Covid days — that it’s really worth celebrating positive developments, especially when they are as totally unexpected as today’s ruling, by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, in the Old Bailey in London, in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

    Judge Baraitser refused to approve Julian’s extradition to the US, to face espionage charges and a potential 175-year prison sentence, on the basis that “his autism spectrum disorder” would “caus[e] him to commit suicide.” She didn’t challenge any of the extradition request’s chilling positions regarding press freedom, but that battle awaits us tomorrow; for today, it’s worth celebrating this positive result, which condemns the brutality of the US prison system, as well as returning hope to a long-demonized individual, who may now, finally, be reunited with his partner Stella Moris and their two young sons.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    Unbelievable.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely no one expected it, Deborah!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Seems unreal, finally. How about releasing him from prison? Any news on that. Poor Man has been locked up for years now for just telling the truth.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    The bail hearing is on Wednesday, Asiya. I can’t see how the government can refuse it.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, I really hope so. Poor man, this has to come to an end.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Likely to remain behind bars however pending appeal?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    The bail hearing’s on Wednesday, David, and I’m hoping he’ll be released.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Angie Graham wrote:

    Now they need to set him free!!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Angie.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Janet Hussain wrote:

    Wow, I was only saying yesterday how the UK and USA are together on this! Seems likely he will freed then?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I very much hope so, Janet. I can’t see how the British government can continue to hold him.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    I can’t stop crying, Andy. I’m so happy.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Natalia!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jane Teller wrote:

    Omg, I wasn’t expecting this! Amazing news! Free Julian!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    No, no one was, Jane. The atmosphere down at the Old Bailey was pretty electric!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia Mann wrote:

    This is the precedent set by Lauri Love.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Sylvia, and Gary McKinnon too. I just expected Judge Baraitser to gloss over the expert testimony about Julian’s mental state and his Asperger’s.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Ian DeBaron wrote:

    Wow. Waiting for the sucker punch here… good news though, I will take it.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s obviously not good, Ian – although it’s unsurprising. The struggle of an awakened public is to find ways to remind our leaders that shutting down whistleblowers and the media who report them, which is what they’re always inclined to do, is the hallmark of a dictatorship.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Ian DeBaron wrote:

    Indeed.

    First, our man free.

    Second, dismantle the cases and put the world on trial.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Ian!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Jay Becker wrote:

    I just watched a thoughtful, informed discussion of this decision with Marjorie Cohen, Daniel Ellsberg & Noam Chomsky, hosted by Kevin Gosztola. Highly recommend it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWYIygghkok&feature=youtu.be

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing that, Jay. Good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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