A British appellate court has opened the door for Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States by overturning a lower court ruling that found the WikiLeaks founder’s mental health was too fragile to withstand the American criminal justice system.
The appellate court ruling handed down Friday is likely to be appealed.
A lower court judge earlier this year refused an American request to extradite Assange to the U.S. to face spying charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied extradition on health grounds, saying Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
The United States appealed, challenging the notion that Assange’s mental health made him too vulnerable to withstand the U.S. judicial system. Lawyer James Lewis said Assange “has no history of serious and enduring mental illness” and does not meet the threshold of being so ill that he cannot resist harming himself.
U.S. authorities have told British judges that if they agree to extradite Assange, he could serve any U.S. prison sentence he receives in his native Australia.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, although Lewis said “the longest sentence ever imposed for this offense is 63 months.”
Assange, 50, is currently being held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison.