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U.S. government lawyers on Wednesday criticized a British judge for blocking the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, questioning evidence about his mental health and accusing an expert witness of misleading the court.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused in January to grant Washington’s request for Assange to stand trial in the United States on espionage charges, saying he was at serious risk of suicide.
But attorney Clair Dobbin, representing the US government appealing the ruling, said the judge “did not appreciate the weight” of expert evidence concluding Assange was not a suicide risk.
Instead, the judge relied on evidence presented by Assange’s psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman, Dobbin told London’s High Court.
She said Kopelman admitted to misleading the court by “hiding” that her client fathered children while locked in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“She really needed to ask herself why he was ready to cheat on her,” Dobbin told Justices Timothy Holroyde and Judith Farbey at a preliminary appeal hearing.
“Experts are not allowed to mislead for any reason.”
Judge Baraitser concluded that Assange’s mental health would deteriorate in the face of “difficult conditions” likely to await him in the US prison system, “leading him to commit suicide.”
Assange, who is currently being held at Belmarsh High Security Prison in London, is wanted in the United States on 18 counts relating to WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan. and Iraq.
The 50-year-old Australian followed court proceedings via video link from prison, sporting long white hair and an unbuttoned white shirt with a loose tie draped around his neck.
– “Derision of freedom” –
Dozens of his supporters gathered outside the courtroom, some holding up signs saying “Free Assange” and “10 years enough”.
“It’s a travesty of freedom,” Colombian protester Mario Mantilla, 58, told AFP, wearing a Statue of Liberty costume splashed with fake blood.
“He is a journalist whose only crime is to overthrow the rotten and dirty business of the world,” he added.
Washington claims Assange helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the 2010 documents before exposing confidential sources around the world.
After Sweden first issued an arrest warrant against Assange in 2010 for allegations of sexual assault, he sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he remained from 2012 to 2019.
In April 2019, Ecuador, then ruled by right-wing President Lenin Moreno, revoked its citizenship. British police dragged Assange out of the embassy.
© 2021 AFP