U.S. Lawyers Challenging U.K. Decision to Block Julian Assange's Extradition

Lawyers for the U.S. government challenged a decision from a U.K. judge on Wednesday that blocked the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be charged with espionage in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

The British judge, Vanessa Baraitser, cited concerns over Assange's mental health in the January ruling, saying that it was feasible for him to commit suicide if placed in a U.S. prison. Clair Dobbin, a lawyer representing the U.S., argued during a High Court hearing that Baraitser's extradition block was established on a "predicted risk of suicide" instead of immediate concerns that Assange was a danger to himself.

Dobbin requested a review of the decision and psychiatric evaluation of Assange. She added that Assange "orchestrated one of the largest thefts of data in history" and stated that he is not so mentally ill that he risks harming himself.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Julian Assange Extradition Block Challenged
Britain's High Court has granted the U.S. government permission to appeal a decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be sent to the United States to face espionage charges. Above, supporters of Assange hold up a banner as they protest, during the first hearing of his extradition appeal, at the High Court in London on August 11, 2021. Matt Dunham/AP Photo

On Wednesday, the 50-year-old Australian listened by video link from London's high-security Belmarsh prison, where he has been held since 2019.

Outside court, Assange's partner, Stella Moris, described him as an "innocent man accused of practicing journalism."

"For every day that this colossal injustice is allowed to continue, Julian's situation grows increasingly desperate," Moris, who has two young children with Assange, told his supporters and reporters.

"Julian has been denied the love and affection of his family for so long. Julian and the kids will never get this time back. This shouldn't be happening," she added.

A group of protesters, including Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, held signs reading "Journalism is not a crime" and shouted "Free Julian Assange" to the beat of a drum as police looked on.

U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

In January, Baraitser, the district judge, accepted evidence from expert witnesses that Assange had a depressive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder. She agreed that U.S. prison conditions would be oppressive, saying there was a "real risk" he would be sent to the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, the highest-security prison in the U.S.

But she rejected defense arguments that Assange faces a politically motivated American prosecution that would override free-speech protections. She said the U.S. judicial system would give him a fair trial.

Supporters and lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawyers for the U.S. government, however, have said the case is largely based on "his unlawful involvement" in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Assange was arrested in London in 2010 at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he remained holed up for the next seven years.

Ecuador withdrew the asylum it had granted him in 2019 and he was then immediately arrested for breaching bail.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

Julian Assange Extradition Protestors
Lawyers for the U.S. government challenged a decision from a U.K. judge on Wednesday that blocked the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. Above, supporters of Assange hold signs as they protest at the High Court in London on August 11, 2021. Matt Dunham/AP Photo