WORLD / EUROPE
WikiLeaks founder faces UK court ruling on extradition to the US
Published: Jan 04, 2021 05:48 PM
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces a UK court ruling on Monday over whether he should be extradited to the US on espionage charges for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret documents online.

A supporter of Julian Assange holds a placard as she stands outside Westminster Magistrates Court during a hearing into Assange's ongoing extradition case, in London, Britain on November 10, 2019. Photo: VCG

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to give her decision at the Old Bailey court in central London from 10:00 am GMT, in a case that has become a cause celebre for media freedom.

Assange, 49, faces 18 charges in the US relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The extradition hearing follows over a decade of international legal controversies surrounding the Australian publisher. 

Monday's court decision is subject to appeal, meaning legal proceedings in the country could still continue before any possible extradition. 

If convicted in the US, Assange could be jailed for up to 175 years. Before the ruling, both Germany and a UN rights expert expressed concern over the human rights and humanitarian problems presented by the extradition.

Assange suffers from a respiratory condition that makes him more vulnerable to COVID-19, which has infected several inmates at the high-security prison in southeast London where he has been held.

Defense witnesses called during the hearing said Assange's history of depression meant he would be a suicide risk if sent to the US and locked up in a maximum security prison. He has also complained of hearing imaginary voices and music during his detention.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told AFP on Sunday that he was "almost certain" the court will rule against Assange.

"We've seen such bias in the proceedings, there have been so many violations against Julian in the proceedings, that unfortunately I'm almost certain that the decision tomorrow will be that he should be extradited."

In an earlier statement, he said that "the mere fact that this case has made it to court, let alone gone on this long, is an historic, large-scale attack on freedom of speech." 

United Nations special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer has urged US President Donald Trump to pardon Assange, saying he is not "an enemy of the American people." 

"In pardoning Mr Assange, Mr President, you would send a clear message of justice, truth and humanity to the American people and to the world," he wrote in December 2020. 

"You would rehabilitate a courageous man who has suffered injustice, persecution and humiliation for more than a decade, simply for telling the truth."

The prospect of a possible pardon from the outgoing US leader has gained ground following a slew of pardons granted to a number of Trump's political allies.

The UK hearing in February 2020 was told Trump promised to pardon Assange if he testified Russia hacked into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election campaign. WikiLeaks later published the emails, which proved politically damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton before the vote.

Stella Moris, Assange's fiancee and the mother of his two young sons, has appealed to Trump directly. "The people want you to pardon Assange. Please listen," she wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
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