A British judge rejected a request by the United States to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying it would be “oppressive” because of his mental health.
The judge said there was a “real risk” Assange would be sent to the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. It’s the highest security prison in the U.S., also holding Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The U.S. government said it would appeal the decision. U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked U.S. military and diplomatic documents a decade ago.
Lawyers for Assange argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.
Lawyers for the U.S. government denied that Assange was being prosecuted merely for publishing, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.