The British judge presiding over the extradition trial of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Thursday that she would give her verdict on the case early next year. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she would decide whether or not Assange will be extradited to the US on January 4th. Thursday was the 18th day of the hearing and the final day of witness testimony.
If Assange is extradited to the US, he could face up to 175 years in prison for exposing US war crimes. The US indicted the WikiLeaks founder on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiring to commit computer intrusion. The charges revolve around US State Department communications and documents on the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan published by WikiLeaks in 2010.
The charges against Assange essentially criminalize receiving and publishing classified information.
A group of legal professionals, known as Lawyers for Assange, sent a letter to the UK government calling for the immediate release of the publisher. The group warned that Assange would not see a fair trial in the US. The letter said all of the crimes Assange is accused of are standard journalistic practices, and if he is extradited, it would gravely endanger press freedom. The letter was endorsed by hundreds of politicians, parliament members, and heads of state from around the world.
Last week, the Old Bailey heard testimony that Assange has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, severe depression, and other conditions that put him at risk of suicide. Medical experts said if Assange is extradited to the US, it will increase his risk of suicide.
On Tuesday, Maureen Baird, a former warden of a high-security prison in New York, told the court that Assange would likely be held in isolation if extradited due to the national security nature of the case. If convicted, Assange would likely be held in isolation in a supermax prison in Colorado, known as ADX, which is home to notorious criminals. Baird warned of the adverse effects isolation causes on the mental health of inmates.
Assange has been held in London’s Belmarsh Prison since April 2019. A UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has likened Assange’s treatment to torture. Melzer examined Assange in Belmarsh back in May 2019. Melzer concluded that the WikiLeaks founder exhibited, “all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety, and intense psychological trauma.” Melzer is also certain that Assange would face torture or other cruel treatment if extradited to the US.
The court at Old Bailey also heard testimony from former employees of UC Global, a Spanish security firm that engaged in extremely intrusive surveillance of Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Evidence suggests that UC Global worked with US intelligence agencies to spy on Assange and his legal team.