The WikiLeaks founder faces up to 175 years in prison if his extradition from Britain is approved
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has called upon authorities in the UK to block Julian Assange’s possible extradition to the United States to face espionage charges. Britain could be violating human rights laws by turning the WikiLeaks founder over to the US, due to his fragile mental state, UN expert Alice Jill Edwards warned on Tuesday.
Ahead of Assange’s final appeal against extradition this month, Edwards has warned that Assange’s “precarious mental health status” could mean that transferring him to US custody could endanger his health.
“Julian Assange suffers from long-standing and recurrent depressive order,” Edwards said in a statement published on the website of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Tuesday. “He is assessed as being at risk of committing suicide.”
Assange, now 52, came to international prominence in 2010 when he published a series of leaks from US Army intelligence operative Chelsea Manning in what was referred to as the largest disclosure of classified documents in history. He faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted of a string of espionage charges.
Edwards added that Assange is also at “risk of being placed in prolonged solitary confinement” and could receive a “potentially disproportionate sentence” in a US courtroom if extradition is approved.
She also urged London to ensure “full compliance with the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of refoulement to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
A final decision on Assange’s possible extradition is expected to be made in London’s High Court on February 20 and 21. He faces a total of 18 criminal counts in the United States over his supposed role in leaking classified documents via the WikiLeaks platform, including some that exposed alleged war crimes.
Assange has been hailed by his supporters as an anti-establishment hero who is being persecuted for exposing US military wrongdoing, and his prosecution would be an attack on journalism and free speech.
“The last four and a half years have taken the most considerable toll on Julian and his family, including our two young sons,” Assange’s wife Stella, whom he married in prison, said last year. “The persecution of this innocent journalist and publisher must end.”
Assange has been detained in the UK since 2019 and is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison in London. Prior to his detention, he spent nearly seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in the English capital after being granted political asylum by the South American country.