The past decade has been a long one for Julian Assange, who discovered on Monday he”d passed the first hurdle to bat away an extradition request from the United States.
His case, however, is not yet over, with the US set to appeal the ruling from London’s Old Bailey.
So, for anyone just now reading into this story, or for those who need a catch-up, here is everything you need to know about the 49-year-old Australian, his founding of Wikileaks, and the battle against extradition.
What is Wikileaks?
Wikileaks was set up in 2006 as a platform for anonymous whistleblowers wanting to share top-secret information and data.
Founded by Assange, it divided opinion around the world – many, on one side, argued Wikileaks provided ground-breaking investigative journalism, while the other said it posed a risk to national security.
What sort of things has Wikileaks released?
The website has released an enormous trove of documents, known as data or information dumps, in its 15 years of being active.
Some of the most famous are 400,000 secret military documents relating to the war in Iraq, and a further 90,000 on Afghanistan.
In 2010, the platform released the now infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which shows soldiers in a US Apache helicopter killing a dozen people on the ground in Baghdad, including two Reuters journalists.
What happened to Assange?
Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 over charges of rape and sexual assault.
He was later held in the UK, where he was living at the time, and awaited the result of an extradition request to face the charges in Sweden.
Two years later, however, Assange skipped bail and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he would spend the next seven years.
By this time, the US had launched an investigation into the publishing of the secret documents relating to Iraq and Afghanistan and later sought to press charges and extradite Assange from the UK. Such charges included 17 for espionage and one for computer misuse “by cracking a password” with US whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Manning, a former US army intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her part in the leaks, but eventually served seven when former US president Barack Obama commuted her sentence. She was later sent back to prison in March 2019 for refusing to testify against Wikileaks and was ordered to be released around a year later.
Meanwhile, relations between Assange and Ecuador had begun to sour, coming amid accusations from President Lenin Moreno of “repeated violations” at the embassy. It resulted in Assange being evicted – and he was filmed in April 2019 being dragged from the building.
He was then taken to Belmarsh Prison after being found guilty of skipping bail and pending the US extradition request and remains there to this day.
Sweden dropped the rape case in November 2019.
What happened in the extradition case?
Following a four-week hearing, Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled on January 4 that Assange should not be extradited to the US.
She accepted the case from the defence team that it would be “oppressive” to allow Assange to be sent to a solitary confinement facility in America when considering the state of his mental health.
Assange, now a father of two, is said to have experienced suicidal ideation in Belmarsh and has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and depression. The court also heard during the ruling how the 49-year-old had planned for the end of his life.
Noting this, Baraitser said Assange came across as a “depressed and sometimes despairing man” who would be a high suicide risk. She said she believed he had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent suicide protection measures if he so wished.
What happens now?
Assange has been taken back to Belmarsh and a full application for his bail is set to be made on January 6.
The lawyers acting on behalf of the US now have 14 days to launch an appeal – which they are highly expected to do.
Is this a win for press freedom?
Not really. In her ruling, Judge Baraitser upheld the majority of the prosecution’s arguments to extradite Assange, which included saying he could not rely on protections of free speech and freedom of the press.
She said this was because several of his actions had been outside the remit of a journalist, and would have violated the Official Secrets Act if prosecuted in the UK.
Therefore, the case was completely reliant on Assange’s mental health – and is what ultimately swung the decision in his favour.