Judge Refuses To Extradite Julian Assange, Citing US Prison Conditions & Assange's Mental Health
from the a-slight-win-for-journalism dept
Even if you think that Julian Assange conspired against the US with the help of Russia, as some allege, you should still be extremely concerned about the US’s prosecution of him. As we’ve explained, the details in the indictment would criminalize many activities that journalists do every single day. It would be a massive expansion of how the Espionage Act was interpreted and would try to blame him for hacking he had nothing to do with.
So, at least for now, it’s good to see that a UK court has refused to extradite Assange to the US. The reasons have little to do with the sketchiness of the underlying case, but rather is a condemnation of US prison conditions. The judge notes that in Assange’s current mental state, he’d likely end up killing himself if placed in the US prison system, but rejected the claims from Assange that the prosecution is politically motivated, and therefore invalid.
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.
The US has already said it’s appealing the ruling, so this is far from over. It’s unclear if Assange’s team will be appealing the rejection of the political prosecution claims, as well as the claims that Assange was acting as a journalist. The Freedom of the Press Foundation, who was an early supporter of Assange, before later fighting with him, celebrated the ruling:
Today?s ruling is a huge sigh of relief for anyone who cares about press freedom. While the judge?s opinion contains many worrying assertions that disregard journalists? rights, her rejection of the Trump administration?s extradition request means the US government likely won?t be able to obtain any precedent that would criminalize common newsgathering and publishing practices. And that is a very good thing.
I agree that it’s good that the extradition attempt has failed for now, but I’m extremely worried about the judge rejecting the free speech/journalism/political attack arguments. Again, much of what Assange did — even if you disagree with it or think it was done under the auspices of a foreign country — should not be considered criminal. The descriptions in the indictment could easily apply to tons of journalists, both in the US and abroad.
Whether or not Assange is a horrible person is unrelated to the legal principles at stake. The entire case appears to be a politically motivated attack on publishing embarrassing documents, and that should raise significant 1st Amendment questions.