WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has won his fight to avoid extradition to the United States and could be freed this week.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said at the Old Bailey on Monday that, due to the real risk of suicide, the 49-year-old should not be extradited by “reason of mental health”.
Assange, who sat in the dock of Court 2 in a blue suit and wearing a green face mask below his nose, closed his eyes as the judge read out her ruling.
Lawyers will return to the Old Bailey on Wednesday for a bail application, and if Assange’s legal team are successful, their client could be a free man.
Having been remanded in custody, Assange will remain at the high-security Belmarsh Prison and the US government has indicated its intent to appeal.
Assange is wanted to face an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.
The case followed WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.
Prosecutors say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, was complicit in hacking by others, and published classified information that put the lives of US informants in danger.
Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence that anyone’s safety was put at risk.
His legal team argued that the prosecution is political and said Assange, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, is a high suicide risk if he is extradited.
In her judgment, Judge Baraitser referred to evidence of Assange’s mental state.
She said that “facing conditions of near total isolation” in US custody, she was satisfied that authorities there would not be able to prevent Assange from “finding a way to commit suicide”.
Judge Baraitser made reference to Jeffrey Epstein in her summary, and said: “Others have succeeded in recent years in committing suicide at jails… Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide at the MCC jail in August 2019.”
Assange’s lawyers had said he faced up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government said the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.
Julian Assange Timeline
- August: An arrest warrant is issued for Mr Assange for two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation – after he visits Sweden for a speaking trip. He is questioned by police in Stockholm and denies the allegations.
- November: Stockholm District Court approves a request to detain the WikiLeaks founder for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. An international arrest warrant is issued by Swedish police through Interpol.
- December: Mr Assange presents himself to London police and appears at an extradition hearing where he is remanded in custody. He is later granted conditional bail at the High Court in London after his supporters offer £240,000 in cash and sureties. US President Donald Trump calls for the death penalty for Mr Assange.
- February: District Judge Howard Riddle rules that Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden.
- November: Mr Assange loses a High Court appeal against the decision.
- May: The UK Supreme Court upholds the High Court decision.
- June 19: Mr Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London, requesting political asylum. A day later, Scotland Yard confirms he will be subject to arrest for breaching his bail conditions.
- June: Mr Assange says he will not leave the embassy even if sex allegations against him are dropped, because he fears moves are under way to extradite him to the US.
- July: He loses a legal bid to have an arrest warrant issued in Sweden cancelled.
- August 13: Swedish prosecutors drop investigations into some of the sex allegations against Mr Assange due to time restrictions. The investigation into suspected rape remains active.
- October 12: The Metropolitan Police end their 24-hour guard outside the Ecuadorian embassy. It breaks a three-year police operation which is estimated to have cost more than £12 million.
- September 16: Sweden’s Court of Appeal rejects a bid by Mr Assange to have his sex assault warrant dropped.
- October 2016: WikiLeaks publishes Democratic National Committee emails to the political benefit of Mr Trump, who remarks during his campaign: “I love WikiLeaks.”
- November 14: Mr Assange is questioned for two days at the Ecuadorian embassy in the presence of Sweden’s assistant prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and police inspector Cecilia Redell.
- January 17: Barack Obama’s decision to free Ms Manning prompts speculation over Mr Assange’s position.
- April 21: America’s attorney general Jeff Sessions says Mr Assange’s arrest is a “priority” for the US.
- May 19: An investigation into a sex allegation against Mr Assange is dropped by Sweden’s director of public prosecutions.
- August 15: He is allegedly offered a deal to avoid extradition in exchange for revealing the source of hacked Democratic Party emails to end speculation over Russian involvement.
- December: Unnamed US figures who have been paying a security contractor to bug Mr Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy discuss a desperate plan to kidnap or poison him, it is claimed.
- August 9: The US Senate Committee asks to interview Mr Assange as part of its investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
- September 27: He steps down as editor of WikiLeaks.
- January: Mr Trump claims to know nothing about WikiLeaks, only that “there is something having to do with Julian Assange”.
- January 10: A legal defence fund is launched for Mr Assange amid fears he is under “increasingly serious threat”.
- January 23: Lawyers for Mr Assange say they are taking action aimed at making Mr Trump’s administration reveal charges “secretly filed” against him.
- March: Ms Manning is jailed again for refusing to give evidence to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
- April 11: Mr Assange is arrested after the Ecuadorian government withdraws his asylum, blaming his “repeated violations” of “international conventions and daily-life protocols”. He is found guilty of breaching the Bail Act and remanded in custody at Belmarsh prison.
- May 1: Mr Assange is sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment by Southwark Crown Court. He continues to be held on remand in Belmarsh from September after serving the custodial sentence.
- May 19: Swedish authorities resume the investigation into the alleged rape.
- November 19: The alleged rape investigation is discontinued.
- January 13: Mr Assange appears at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and is backed by dozens of supporters including rapper MIA.
- February 24: He faces an extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court. His representatives argue he cannot legally be handed to the US for “political offences” because of a 2003 extradition treaty.
- March 25: Mr Assange appears by video link at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where he is refused bail amid the coronavirus crisis.
- April 11: Stella Moris, Mr Assange’s partner, who gave birth to his two children while he was living inside the Ecuadorian embassy, issues a plea for his release amid fears for his health.
- June 24: The US Department of Justice issues an updated 18-count indictment over Mr Assange’s alleged role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.
- August 25: Ms Moris visits him in Belmarsh prison for the first time in almost six months.
- September 7: Mr Assange’s extradition hearings resume at the Old Bailey.
- October 1: Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourns the case.
- November 26: Mr Moris urges Mr Trump to pardon Mr Assange before he leaves office.
- January 4: British judge blocks Assange’s extradition to the US.