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Julian Assange in a police vehicle outside Westminster Magistrates court in London in 2019. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange must not be extradited to the U.S., where he's wanted on charges of violating the Espionage Act and hacking government computers, because of the high risk of suicide in U.S. custody, a British judge in London ruled Monday.

Why it matters: The ruling, which will be appealed by the U.S., is a huge win for Assange after a years-long battle. The case has raised significant questions about First Amendment protections for publishers of classified information, as Assange argues he was acting as a journalist when he published leaked documents on Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • The 49-year-old Australian faces up to 175 years in prison in the U.S. if ultimately extradited and found guilty of all charges in the 18-count indictment filed against him.
  • His case has become highly politicized in the U.S., after WikiLeaks was accused in 2016 of releasing Democratic emails hacked by Russian intelligence in order to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The charges he faces are not related to the 2016 election.

The big picture: The U.S. Department of Justice accused Assange of conspiring in 2010 with Chelsea Manning, who was imprisoned from 2010 to 2017 for leaked thousands of military and diplomatic documents, to crack a password on Defense Department computers.

  • Last year, the DOJ charged Assange in a superseding indictment for recruiting and conspiring with computer hackers, including those affiliated with the hacking groups LulzSec and Anonymous.
  • He was arrested in 2019 in London's Ecuadorian Embassy after the nation withdrew its offer of asylum. He spent seven years there after Sweden announced rape charges against him that have since been dropped.

Between the lines: Assange's legal team and defenders say the prosecution against him is politically motivated, and that he is being kept in detention conditions that violate human rights.

For the record: District Judge Vanessa Baraitser did not decide on Assange's guilt in the ruling, only whether the U.S. extradition request complied with a 2003 extradition treaty. This requires judges to determine whether defendants could also face trial in the U.K. over the crimes they're accused of.

  • Baraitser did, however, dismiss claims from the defense that Assange should be protected under freedom of press, saying in court that his activities "went beyond the mere encouragement of a journalist."
  • The U.S. is expected to appeal the case.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.