Western Morning News

US to appeal blocking of Assange extraditio­n

- PRESS ASSOCIATIO­N REPORTERS wmnnewsdes­k@reachplc.com

THE fiancée of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has hailed his “victory” in his fight to avoid extraditio­n to the United States, but Stella Moris said she and the couple’s two young sons cannot celebrate until the day he goes home.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said at the Old Bailey yesterday that, due to the real risk of suicide, Assange, 49, should not be extradited by “reason of mental health”.

But his supporters raised concerns that her judgment focused on his health and rejected defence arguments over freedom of speech.

The US government has given notice that it will appeal against the decision and has two weeks to lodge grounds. Assange has been remanded in custody at high-security Belmarsh Prison in London ahead of a bail applicatio­n tomorrow.

Assange wiped his brow in the dock after the decision was announced, while Ms Moris wept in court before speaking to supporters and journalist­s outside (above right).

She said: “I had hoped today would be the day Julian would come home. Today is not that day, but that day will come soon.

“As long as Julian has to endure suffering in isolation as an unconvicte­d prisoner at Belmarsh Prison, as long as our children continue to be robbed of their father’s love and affection, we cannot celebrate. We will celebrate the day he comes home. Today is a victory for Julian. Today’s victory is the first stop towards justice in this case.”

Assange has been held in Belmarsh since he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions in April, 2019. He had entered the building in 2012 after exhausting all legal avenues to avoid extraditio­n to Sweden to face sex offence allegation­s, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.

Assange is wanted in the US to face an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence informatio­n. The prosecutio­n followed WikiLeaks’ publicatio­n of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanista­n and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.

Prosecutor­s say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, was complicit in hacking by others, and published classified informatio­n that put the lives of US informants in danger.

Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence that anyone’s safety was put at risk.

His lawyers said he faced up to 175 years’ jail if convicted, although the US government said it was more likely to be four to six years. His legal team argued the US prosecutio­n is political and said Assange, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, is a high suicide risk if extradited.

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