Julian Assange's partner: extradition ‘disastrous for the UK’

Stella Moris, who has two children with Assange, speaks out before ruling on whether WikiLeaks founder can be sent for trial in US

FILE - In this Wednesday May 1, 2019 file photo buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will find out Monday Jan. 4, 2021 whether he can be extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. to face espionage charges over the publication of secret American military documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

On Monday, Julian Assange will find out if he could be extradited from the UK to the US to face espionage charges over the publication of secret military documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to deliver her decision at London’s Old Bailey courthouse at 10am on Monday.

If Ms Baraitser grants the request, then Britain’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, would make the final decision.

Before the ruling, Mr Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, said extraditing the WikiLeaks founder, 49, would be an “unthinkable travesty” and would damage British freedom.

Ms Moris, with whom he has two children, said a decision to extradite him to the US would be “politically and legally disastrous for the UK”.

"It would rewrite the rules of what it is permissible to publish here," she wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

“Overnight, it would chill free and open debate about abuses by our own government and by many foreign ones, too.

“In effect, foreign countries could simply issue an extradition request saying that UK journalists, or Facebook users for that matter, have violated their censorship laws.

"The press freedoms we cherish in Britain are meaningless if they can be criminalised and suppressed by regimes in Russia or Ankara, or by prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia.”

Both sides are expected to appeal if they lose, which could lead to more years of legal wrangling.

But there is a possibility that outside forces might come into play that could instantly end the decade-long saga.

Ms Moris has appealed to US President Donald Trump on Twitter to grant a pardon to Mr Assange before he leaves office on January 20.

And even if Mr Trump does not, there is speculation that his successor, Joe Biden, may take a more lenient approach to the extradition process.

US prosecutors indicted Mr Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse, which carry a total maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the US government said in their closing arguments after the four-week hearing in autumn that Mr Assange’s defence team had raised issues that were neither relevant nor admissible.

FILE - In this Wednesday May 1, 2019 file photo buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will find out Monday Jan. 4, 2021 whether he can be extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. to face espionage charges over the publication of secret American military documents. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

“Consistently, the defence asks this court to make findings, or act upon the submission, that the US is guilty of torture, war crimes, murder, breaches of diplomatic and international law and that the US is ‘a lawless state’,” they said.

“These submissions are not only non-justiciable in these proceedings but should never have been made.”

Mr Assange’s defence team said he was entitled to First Amendment protection for the publication of leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the US extradition request was politically motivated.

In their written closing arguments, they accused the US of an “extraordinary, unprecedented and politicised” prosecution that constitutes “a flagrant denial of his right to freedom of expression and poses a fundamental threat to the freedom of the press throughout the world”.

Defence lawyers also said Mr Assange was suffering symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal ideation, that could be exacerbated if he were placed in prison in the US.

They said his mental health deteriorated while he took asylum inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years and that he had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Mr Assange jumped bail in 2012 when he sought asylum at the embassy, where he stayed for seven years before being evicted and arrested. He has been held at Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019.

His legal team said he would, if extradited, probably be placed in solitary confinement, which would put him at a greater risk of suicide.

They said if he was then convicted, he would probably be sent to the notorious ADX Supermax prison in Colorado, where inmates include Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

FILE - In this May 19, 2017 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self imposed exile since 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Lawyers for the US government said Mr Assange’s mental state was “patently not so severe so as to preclude extradition".

He has attracted the support of high-profile figures, including the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and actress Pamela Anderson.

Daniel Ellsberg, the famous US whistleblower, also came out in support, telling the hearing that they had “very comparable political opinions.”

Mr Ellsberg, 89, was widely credited for helping to bring about an end to the Vietnam War through his leaking of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

He said said the American public “needed urgently to know what was being done routinely in their name, and there was no other way for them to learn it than by unauthorised disclosure".

There are clear similarities between Mr Assange and Mr Ellsberg, who leaked more than 7,000 pages of classified documents to the press, including The New York Times  and The Washington Post.

Mr Ellsberg was put on trial for 12 charges in connection with contraventions of the Espionage Act, which were punishable by up to 115 years in prison.

The charges were dismissed in 1973 because of government misconduct against him.

Mr Assange and his legal team will be hoping that developments in the US will bring an end to his ordeal if the judge grants the US extradition request.