Julian Assange seeks freedom with bail application after avoiding extradition

PA

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will appear in court to apply for bail on Wednesday after he avoided extradition to the United States.

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

The US government has given notice that it will appeal against the decision and has two weeks to lodge grounds, while Assange has been remanded in custody at high-security Belmarsh Prison ahead of his bail application at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

A spokesman said Assange’s fiancee, Stella Morris, will attend the bail hearing, which is expected to begin from 10am.

Ms Morris, who is also the mother of Assange’s two sons, hailed Monday’s “victory” but said their family will not be able to celebrate until the day he goes home.

Assange’s supporters have raised concerns that Judge Baraitser’s judgment focused on the 49-year-old’s health and rejected defence arguments over freedom of speech.

Assange wiped his brow in the dock after the decision was announced, while Ms Morris wept in court before speaking to cheering supporters and journalists outside.

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.

Julian Assange extradition
Julian Assange extradition

“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 step 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.

Julian Assange extradition
Julian Assange extradition

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 had said he faced up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government said the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.

The defence legal team argued that 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 he is extradited.

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