On January 4, 2020, Judge Vanessa Baraitser of Westminster Magistrates’ Court denied the extradition request of the United States for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 49, because of Assange’s mental condition. Her 132-page ruling (“extradition decision”) is a victory for Assange, but the U.S. Government will undoubtedly appeal.
The decision covers the following issues: a. the UK-US Extradition Treaty prohibits extradition for a political offense and hence the court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case; b. the allegations do not meet the statutory “dual criminality” requirements; c. extradition would be unjust and oppressive by reason of the lapse of time; d. extradition is barred by reason of extraneous considerations; e. extradition is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the ECHR”); f. extradition should be refused because it would be unjust and oppressive by reason of Mr. Assange’s mental condition and the high risk of suicide; and g. extradition would be an abuse of process.
There have been four indictments, including the superseding indictments. Essentially, the U.S. charges Assange with computer intrusion and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, espionage (e.g., obtaining, receiving and disclosure of “National Defense Information”).
In particular, the superseding indictment charges Assange conspired with former U.S. military and intelligence officer Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning) to obtain, inter alia: briefs, the diplomatic cables and the Iraq rules of engagement files to the extent that they contained the names of individuals in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the world who risked their safety and freedom by providing information to the US and its allies, from those with lawful possession to those not entitled to receive them.
The extradition decision provides the history, starting on December 2, 2010, when the Swedish Government issued a European Arrest Warrant for Assange on rape charges. On June 19, 2012, after the court granted extradition, from which Assange appealed, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy. On May 19, 2017, the Swedish prosecutor announced she was discontinuing the case On December 21, 2017, the Ecuadorean Government granted Assange diplomatic status. On December 22, 2017, the U.S. requested extradition.
The court held evidentiary hearings in February 2020 and September-October 2020.
The Decision with Respect to Mr. Assange’s Medical Condition and the Risk of Suicide
With respect to whether extradition should be refused because it would be unjust and oppressive by reason of Mr. Assange’s mental condition and the high risk of suicide, Assange’s counsel submitted a report of the Centre for Constitutional Rights in conjunction with the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic (“the Darkest Corner”) 2017 concerning likely conditions of pre- and post-trial confinement if Assange was extradited, tried and convicted. In particular, persons convicted of espionage and terrorism crimes are often subject to special administrative measures (SAM).
After reviewing the psychiatric experts for Assange and the U.S. Government, Judge Baraitser found “that the risk that Mr. Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one.”
Judge Baraister continued that “Mr. Assange faces the bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to remove physical contact and reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum. He faces these prospects as someone with a diagnosis of clinical depression and persistent thoughts of suicide.” According to her decision, the judge deems “Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.” Judge Baraister explained “I am satisfied that, if he is subjected to the extreme conditions of SAMs, Mr. Assange’s mental health will deteriorate to the point where he will commit suicide.”
The judge explained “I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. I also accept that there is a strong public interest in giving effect to treaty obligations and that this is an important factor to have in mind. However, 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.” She cited as precedent the cases of Wolkowicz and Lauri Love.
Marc Raimondi, acting director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the DOJ was extremely disappointed but noted that “the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech.” The U.S. promised to appeal the decision and asked for Assange to be remanded in custody pending the appeal.
The decision is a blow to efforts of the U.S. Government to extradite persons accused of espionage and terrorism crimes, because it essentially opines that persons who are suicidal and subject to SAM may suffer from unduly oppressive conditions, tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. The importance of the case bears monitoring as it goes through the appeal process.
The current issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of the decision and its implications.
 Government of the United States of America v. Julian Paul Assange, District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) Vanessa Baraitser In the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Decision, Jan. 4, 2020 https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/USA-v-Assange-judgment-040121.pdf.
 Extradition decision, paragr. 337 at p. 109.
 Id., paragr. 344 at p. 111.
 Id., paragr. 346, at p. 112.
 Id., paragr. 355, at p. 116.
 Id., paragr. 362, at p. 118.
 Claudia Rebaza, Kara Fox and Vasco Cotovio, UK judge denies US request to extradite Julian Assange, CNN, Jan. 4, 2021.
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