US lawyers appeal UK decision to block Assange extradition
LONDON — Lawyers acting on behalf of the U.S. government on Wednesday challenged a British judge’s decision to block the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges in the United States, arguing that assessments of Assange’s mental health should be reviewed.
The British judge ruled in January that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. The U.S. government is appealing.
Clair Dobbin, a British lawyer who represented U.S. authorities during a High Court preliminary hearing on Wednesday, said that District Judge Vanessa Baraitser based her decision not to extradite Assange on a “predicted risk of suicide” rather than the risk at the time the matter was before her.
Dobbin said both the ruling and the evaluations of psychiatrists needed to be scrutinized given the “extraordinary lengths” Assange went to before his arrest in London to avoid legal proceedings. After skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden alleged sexual assault, he spent almost seven years holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.K. capital.
On Wednesday, the 50-year-old Australian listened in by video link from London’s high-security Belmarsh prison. He was arrested in the embassy in April 2019 after Ecuador withdrew the asylum it had granted him.
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.
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 shouted “Free Julian Assange” to the beat of a drum as police looked on.
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.
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