Judge Blocks Julian Assange’s Extradition to the United States

One of the biggest journalism story has finally gotten a bit of good news. A judge is blocking the US’s bid for Assange’s extradition.

It’s been a long road to get here. After years of being holed up in an embassy under political asylum, Wikileaks co-founder and journalist, Julian Assange, was dragged out and arrested with no resistance. The details of the story are difficult to fathom for actual journalists in the world.

First, there was the controversial deal made by the United States with Ecuador. The deal saw the exchange of additional loans in exchange for relinquishing Assange’s political asylum. Then there was the stunning 50 week prison sentence for the comparatively benign crime of skipping bail. That controversial sentence was condemned by the United Nations as “disproportionate”.

After that, there was the indictment of 17 charges filed by the US government. This for what many point out is for the crime of journalism.

To make matters worse, Assange’s health had deteriorated as he served his 50 week sentence in solitary confinement in a notorious prison. The concerns were so grave, many worried that Assange would die in prison. Reporters Without Borders called for the release of Assange on humanitarian grounds. Those demands were effectively ignored as Assange continued to languish in prison.

When hearings proceeded, human rights organizations were denied the ability to observe the proceedings. The proceedings were also delayed due to a possible COVID-19 exposure.

After that, the hearing concluded and a decision was due to be rendered this year. After the hearings, the Electronic Frontier Foundation blasted the trial as selective prosecution. They further commented that journalism is not a crime.

As if things weren’t bad enough, while Assange awaited his fate, a COVID-19 outbreak hit the prison where Assange was being held. This, once again, raised the concerns about Assange’s health.

Now, some rare bit of good news. The judge has decided to block Assange’s extradition to the United States. According to the BBC, the fear is that a harsh prison stay could push him to commit suicide:

The judge blocked the request because of concerns over Mr Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide in the US.

Mr Assange, who is wanted over the publication of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011, says the case is politically motivated.

Expressing disappointment at the ruling, the US justice department noted that its legal arguments had prevailed.

Its position is that the leaks broke the law and endangered lives.

“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised,” the justice department said.

The US authorities have 14 days in which to lodge an appeal and are expected to do so.

For supporters of free speech and freedom of the press, this is a major victory. The fear all along is that once Assange is in the United States, he’s basically a dead man. All because he published documents that exposed a stunning amount of government corruption and wrongdoing.

The EFF has released a statement on the decision, saying that while this is good news, it doesn’t erase what has happened to Assange throughout the entire process:

The judge largely confirmed the charges against him, but ultimately determined that the United States’ extreme procedures for confinement that would be applied to Mr. Assange would create a serious risk of suicide.

EFF’s Executive Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement today:

“We are relieved that District Judge Vanessa Baraitser made the right decision to reject extradition of Mr. Assange and, despite the U.S. government’ initial statement, we hope that the U.S. does not appeal that decision. The UK court decision means that Assange will not face charges in the United States, which could have set dangerous precedent in two ways. First, it could call into question many of the journalistic practices that writers at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, and other publications engage in every day to ensure that the American people stay informed about the operations of their government. Investigative journalism—including seeking, analyzing and publishing leaked government documents, especially those revealing abuses—has a vital role in holding the U.S. government to account. It is, and must remain, strongly protected by the First Amendment. Second, the prosecution, and the judge’s decision, embraces a theory of computer crime that is overly broad — essentially criminalizing a journalist for discussing and offering help with basic computer activities like use of rainbow tables and scripts based on wget, that are regularly used in computer security and elsewhere.

While we applaud this decision, it does not erase the many years Assange has been dogged by prosecution, detainment, and intimidation for his journalistic work. It also does not erase the government’s arguments that, as in so many other cases, attempts to cast a criminal pall over routine actions because they were done with a computer. We are still reviewing the judge’s opinion and expect to have additional thoughts once we’ve completed our analysis.”

The United States is, of course, widely expected to appeal the decision. As a result, this process will very likely continue to drag on for some time.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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