The United Kingdom has blocked United States’ attempt to extradite Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser on January 4 took the decision, but RSF has expressed extreme disappointment that the court failed to take a stand for press freedom and journalistic protections.
According to a statement by Rebecca Vincent, RSF Director of International Campaigns, “We disagree with the judge’s assessment that the case was not politically motivated and was not centred on journalism and free speech.
“This decision leaves the door open for further similar prosecutions and will have a chilling effect on national security reporting around the world if the root issues are not addressed”.
Although Judge Baraitser decided against extradition, the grounds for her decision were strictly based on Assange’s serious mental health issues and the conditions he would face in detention in the US. On the substantive points in the case – in which the US government has pursued Assange on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – the judge’s decision was heavily in favour of the prosecution’s arguments, and dismissive of the defence.
The US government has indicated that it intends to appeal the extradition decision. Assange remains detained on remand in high-security Belmarsh prison, pending the judge’s consideration of his bail application on 6 January.
RSF has called again for his immediate release, and says it will continue to monitor proceedings.
Despite extensive difficulties securing access – including refusal by the judge to accredit NGO observers and threats of arrest by police on the scene – RSF monitored the 4 January hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), and has been the only NGO to monitor the full extradition proceedings against Assange.