A UK appeals court has reversed a previous ruling that Wikileaks founder shouldn’t be extradited to the US due to mental health concerns, the Associated Press has reported. The decision opens the door for Assange to be extradited to the US, where he’d face charges of espionage over Wikileaks’ publication of government documents.
Lower court Judge Vanessa Baraitser originally ruled that the US criminal justice system presented a risk to Assange’s physical wellbeing. “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future,” the judge ruled in January. “For all of these reasons I find that Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.”
In its appeal, however, the US government argued that Assange had no history of “serious and enduring mental illness” that would suggest any risk of self-harm. US lawyers also told British judges that if they extradited Assange, he could serve his US prison sentence in his home country of Australia.
The High Court in London decided that those assurances were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely. The final decision for his extradition is now in the hands of the UK home secretary, though Assange has the option of appealing. Assange’s camp has argued that his work constitutes journalism and so his extradition would be a violation of press freedom.
The US government indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges along with one charge of computer misuse over Wikileaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents. The maximum penalty is 175 years in prison, though US lawyers said “the longest sentence ever imposed for this offense is 63 months.” Assange was denied bail for risk of flight and is being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison.