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.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, espionage act, extradition, free speech, journalism, julian assange, uk, us


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 1:54pm

    'We wouldn't extradite to north korea either, so...'

    Makes sense, I mean how could a case going after someone who made the USG look bad possibly have a political angle to it, clearly this has absolutely nothing to do with politics and image and everything to do with anything but that.

    As for the argument the judge did buy, while I most certainly don't disagree that makes for one hell of a backhand to the US prison system, one richly deserved. 'We refuse to extradite the accused because the prison system they could find themselves in is so utterly barbaric that the physical and mental welbeing of the accused would very much be in danger' makes for quite the reason to refuse extradition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2021 @ 6:57pm

      Re: 'We wouldn't extradite to north korea either, so...'

      makes for quite the reason to refuse extradition.

      Its also a political move. Any judge that refused to extradite to the US based on the merits of the case would very quickly find themselves in boiling water.

      The state of the US injustice system and it's privatized punishment system is well known in other areas of the world for it's apathy and brutality. Which makes it far more acceptable to the rest of the world to give the butt-hurt US representatives, crying for "justice" that they would never show to the accused, the finger.

      Plausible deniability. "Oh, we can't extradite him. What? I'm genuinely concerned about the treatment he'd get in a US prison as a prisoner accused of things that they could use the Patriot Act on."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Canuck, 4 Jan 2021 @ 3:40pm

    Awesome!

    2021 is off to a good start. Trump's "recalculate" phone call was a bit of extra gravy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 4:20pm

    I'm honestly surprised he wasn't just taken to a US military base and just thrown to the wolves by the Tories given their disdain for the rule of law and love of kissing Trump's arse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2021 @ 4:43pm

      Re:

      Trump's is no longer the ass to kiss. They're waiting to see which of Biden's cheeks he prefers kissed before moving forward.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 11:21pm

        Re: Re:

        They're generally on a worse standing with Biden. He'd already made it clear that they would be a far worse position with the US had they allowed Brexit to fail into a no deal situation, and I have no doubt these warning were part of what made Boris decide to get out of that at the last opportunity. Trump would have encouraged them to fail as hard as possible. Biden has also been making some rather clear noises about how he's going to prioritise domestic economic deals over new foreign deals, and the UK are now going to be desperate for the latter.

        It will take some time for the exact landscape to be known, especially since Biden's first term priority is going to be to reduce Trump's death count. But, whatever you think of his overall policy positions and decisions, Biden is not driven by personal ass kissing the way Trump is - they'd at least have to present something that might benefit the US rather than just appeal to the personal ego of the man in charge. Whether that's "benefit the US" as in "benefit the lower class citizens of the US" or "benefit select corporate donors" is another question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dave W (profile), 5 Jan 2021 @ 2:27am

        Re: Re:

        The British government needs to secure a trade deal with the US post Brexit. Biden must want to unify his people, and gain some support from the right; and being the man to get Assange would do him good at the start of his presidency.

        Assange might find himself becoming an important trading token to Britain getting better terms from the US in a deal.

        Our government will happily throw him to the lions for a sniff at a better trade deal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 4 Jan 2021 @ 4:30pm

    soo.

    going to jail because he is showing truth in advertising, Politics?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave W (profile), 5 Jan 2021 @ 2:22am

    Smart legal move, but maybe only option

    The UK's extradition treaty with the US is famously (here at least) one-sided. The UK can only contest an extradition request if to do so would risk the life of that person.

    The precedence for this is the case of Gary McKinnon - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_McKinnon (please excuse the wikipedia reference, but its a good platform for plenty of other material on the case).

    If Assange's lawyers insist he is so mentally fragile that he may commit suicide they will be leaning heavily on this case as precendence. It will need to go through a number of courts - Appeal, Supreme, House of Lords and (maybe) European Court of Human Rights.

    (Side note - countries belong to the ECHR and the EU seperately so Brexit does not, in theory, preclude Assange going there for adjudication)

    The buck will finally end up in front of the Home Secretary. At this moment that is Priti Patel. She ain't so pretty. She has a well-documented disdain for actual law, is a bully, and could easily be flattered by the US.

    I wouldn't bet on Assange's chances if the decision came before her.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 5 Jan 2021 @ 1:53pm

    An ironic twist of fate…

    It's ironic that the US's cruel and barbaric penal system actually saved Julian Assange's life rather than took it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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