Jubilant scenes greeted Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges at London’s Old Bailey courthouse on Monday.
Assange, 49, was charged with 18 counts of conspiring to hack US government computers and the publication of confidential military records, including a video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed.
Baraitser cited fears that Assange could commit suicide, thus blocking his transfer to the US where he will be prosecuted for publishing secret US military documents.
She said in her ruling that if detained in the United States, 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.
‘For this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge.’
Outside the court, his supporters rejoiced upon hearing the news and started shouting ‘Free Assange!’
Prosecutors can now appeal the verdict at London’s High Court and the case could go to the UK Supreme Court.
Throughout his trial, Assange’s defence team said the decision to extradite and prosecute their client was politically motivated, ‘during a unique period of US history under the Trump administration’.
Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said that US prosecutors have indicated they will appeal the ruling. Fitzgerald said he would apply for bail for Assange today (Wednesday 6th January) pending that appeal.
The decision is expected to be appealed against in London’s High Court, with the possibility that it may be taken as far as the Supreme Court.
Throughout his trial, his family, legal team and supporters have said Assange’s detention at Belmarsh prison was tantamount to torture, citing his deteriorating physical and mental health, exacerbated by a Covid-19 outbreak at the high-security facility in south-east London.
Scores of Julian Assange’s supporters outside the Old Bailey on Monday were subject to police harassment, threatened with arrest under Covid-19 laws and prevented from picketing.
Speaking to News Line, Jack Gate said: ‘It’s an issue of free speech and to hold power to account, power and the media fourth estate. If power is not held to account it’s undemocratic.
‘In principle I support strike action to stop Julian Assange’s deportation.’
Mark Lewis said ‘I think it’s a historic and significant moment in history. It needs to be marked in everyone’s conscience.
‘Everybody should be standing up for his release. I’d love to see mass involvement and everyone making a stand. There should be thousands protesting.’
John McGhee said: ‘I have to support Julian Assange and truth and justice. As part of the resistance he is in the vanguard against the war on truth.
‘I agree with strike action to release him. I support any action in defence of Julian Assange. A tidal wave of terror is sweeping the world and Julian Assange is the cork in the bottle against corruption.
‘If he goes it will engulf the world and be the end of media resistance against government overreach and corporate greed.
‘I completely agree with a revolution. I don’t see any option except a revolution – or it’s total capitulation. We are on the edge of total capitulation.’
Uruguayan trade unionist and former teacher Sebastian Ruiz said: ‘I have always supported Julian Assange since he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. I feel I have to be here. The trade union movement must support him. Workers everywhere must support this just cause.’
Nils MuiÏnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said: ‘We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA and that the court acknowledged that due to his health concerns, he would be at risk of ill-treatment in the US prison system.
‘But the charges against him should never have been brought in the first place. The charges were politically-motivated, and the UK government should never have so willingly assisted the US in its unrelenting pursuit of Assange.
‘The fact that the ruling is correct and saves Assange from extradition, does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial.
‘It has set a terrible precedent for which the US is responsible and the UK government is complicit.’
International human rights organisation Amnesty stated: ‘The US extradition request is based on charges directly related to the publication of leaked classified documents as part of Assange’s work with WikiLeaks.
‘Publishing such information is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public’s right to information about government wrongdoing. Publishing information in the public interest is protected under international human rights law and should not be criminalised.
‘If extradited to the US, Julian Assange could have faced trial on 18 charges – 17 under the Espionage Act, and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
‘He would also have faced a real risk of serious human rights violations due to detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement.
‘Julian Assange is the first publisher to face charges under the Espionage Act.’
Supporters of Julian Assange who arrived at the court early were immediately greeted by police and told that they were ‘suspected of joining a protest’ which would be illegal under Covid restrictions.
However, a huddle of journalists and cameramen who were able show a press card, were considered immune from Covid-19 and were allowed to stay.
Filmmaker and director of the independent documentary ‘The Great NHS Heist’ Drew McFadyen was outside the court early and was challenged by police.
He told News Line: ‘I was standing outside the court with all my film equipment and police told me they suspected that I would be part of a protest as I was wearing a ‘Free Assange’ badge that I had been given.
‘They said I would be in breach of the Covid regulations and if I did did not leave immediately my equipment would be taken off me.
‘I am shaken by what is happening here, people going about their reputable work are being shut down.’
Assange supporter Alan Fontaine said: ‘Our rights are being taken away.
‘The right to protest is a fundamental right.
‘WikiLeaks has done a lot of good work, revealing war crimes, if it wasn’t for WikiLeaks we would not be aware of the torture in Guantanamo Bay prison.
‘We are here to show Julian Assange he is not alone.’
Stella had travelled from Paris the day before with her ‘Freedom for Julian Assange’ placard and said: ‘We want justice done because we are standing with Assange because we want to know the truth.’
Alex Brew, a teacher, after being harassed by police outside the entrance to the Old Bailey said: ‘I’ve been teaching in schools where it has been really crowded.
‘Now I am standing on my own, socially distancing wearing a mask, and am being told by police I am in breach of Covid regulations and must go home.’