A judge has ruled that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the US.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she had refused his extradition because of fears that he could kill himself, describing him as a “depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to thwart any suicide prevention measures taken by prison authorities.
His lawyers had argued the entire prosecution was politically motivated, powered by outgoing US president Donald Trump, and that his extradition posed a severe threat to the work of journalists.
At a hearing at London’s Old Bailey, Judge Baraitser rejected nearly all the arguments of Assange’s legal team, but said she could not extradite him as there was a real risk he would kill himself – and instead ordered his discharge.
“Faced with conditions of near total isolation [...] I am satisfied that the procedures [outlined by US authorities] will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide,” she said.
The US government said it would appeal the decision, but Assange’s lawyers plan to ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a year-and-a-half.
Assange wiped his brow after the decision was announced, while his fiancee, Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.
She was embraced by Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, who sat next to her in court as the judgment was delivered.
Moris said: “We are pleased that the court has recognised the seriousness and inhumanity of what he has endured and what he faces.
“But let’s not forget the indictment in the US has not been dropped.
“We are extremely concerned that the US government decided to appeal this decision. It continues to want to punish Julian and make him disappear into the deepest, darkest hole of the US prison system for the rest of his life.
“That will never happen. We will never accept that journalism is a crime in this country, or any other.
“Let’s not forget that US agents plotted to kill Julian on British soil.
“His British solicitors were deliberately targeted by name and their documents were stolen, their legal operations even targeted our six-month-old baby. It is sickening and it is also a threat to everyone.”
Assange has been remanded in custody ahead of a bail application that could take place later on Monday.
Speaking outside the Old Bailey, Hrafnsson said: “I am concerned that instantly, upon giving her decision, the lawyers for the US government indicated they would appeal the decision. They should not.
“And there should be a call out and pressure on the US side to drop the appeal, to say ‘enough is enough’.
“We’ve had enough of this. We have plenty to deal with in this new year. But not this.”
He thanked supporters and added: “But let’s be cautious – no celebration, in our victory celebration, because the fight is not over.
“As Stella (Moris) said, it will be not over until Julian can go home and be with her and the boys.”
Conservative MP David Davis tweeted: “Good news Julian Assange’s extradition has been blocked. Extradition treaties should not be used for political prosecutions.”
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott wrote on Twitter that the decision not to allow the extradition was an “excellent ruling by the British judge”.
“Congratulations to all the dogged campaigners on Assange’s behalf,” she added.
Journalist and documentary maker John Pilger, who has been a vocal campaigner for Julian Assange, tweeted: “This is wonderful! It’s a face-saving cover for the British to justify their disgraceful political trial of #Assange on America’s behalf.”
The WikiLeaks founder faces an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.
It follows WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.
Prosecutors say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, that he was complicit in hacking by others, and that he published classified information that put the lives of US informants in danger.
The 49-year-old denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence anyone’s safety was put at risk.
Assange’s lawyers have said he faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government claimed the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.