WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces a UK court decision on Monday that he should be extradited to the United States on accusations of spying for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents online.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to give her verdict at the Old Bailey Court in central London of 1000 GMT in a case that has become a well-known cause for freedom of the media.
Assange, 49, faces 18 allegations in the United States relating to the release of 500,000 classified files by WikiLeaks in 2010 documenting details of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The extradition trial follows over a decade of diplomatic legal issues involving the Australian publisher.
Monday’s court ruling is open to appeal, i.e. judicial proceedings in the country can begin until any potential extradition.
Was tried in the United States, she could be incarcerated for up to 175 years.
Before the decision, both Germany and the UN human rights specialist voiced concern about the human rights and humanitarian issues posed by the extradition.
Assange is suffering from a lung disease that renders him more vulnerable to Covid-19, which has affected a number of prisoners at the high-security jail in south-east London, where he has been held.
Defense witnesses called during the hearing said Assange’s experience of depression indicated that he would be at risk of suicide if he was taken to the United States and locked up in a high security jail.
He also complained that he had heard imagined voices and songs during his arrest.
– Clear message –
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.
“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 last year was told Trump promised to pardon Assange if he testified Russia hacked into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) 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.
In court, his lawyers have argued the charges against him are political while outside supporters have mounted a noisy daily vigil.
Baraitser will have to decide whether the US request for extradition is compatible with human rights.
Washington for its part claims Assange helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal the documents before exposing confidential sources around the world.
After Sweden first issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 over allegations of sexual assault, he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he remained from 2012 until 2019.
In April 2019, Ecuador, by then ruled by right-wing President Lenin Moreno, revoked his citizenship.
The following day, British police dragged Assange out of the embassy, having been informed that his asylum had been withdrawn. He was arrested by British police for breaching his bail terms.
The earlier Swedish assault investigation against him was later dropped due to lack of evidence.