Defense lawyer calls Julian Assange a suicide risk at extradition hearing in London

The U.S. team condemned the WikiLeaks founder for publicizing classified government materials they say endangered American assets

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to media from balcony of Ecuador's Embassy in London, England in 2017
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Last Updated:
February 24, 2020 - 7:33pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Julian Assange’s defense attorney argued Monday in London that the WikiLeaks founder would be in danger of committing suicide if sentenced to a long prison term in the United States.

In a hearing in London to adjudicate whether Assange should be extradited to the U.S. to face charges he conspired to obtain and publish classified information, attorney Edward Fitzgerald described Assange as “an extremely vulnerable person with a long history of clinical depression and an established risk of suicide.”

The defense also argued that Assange is being made into an “example” by President Trump.

The opposing sides in the case presented vastly different views of Assange’s actions, with the U.S. team condemning him for publicizing classified government materials that they say endangered American assets.

"What Mr Assange seems to defend by freedom of speech is not the publication of the classified materials but the publication of the names of the sources, the names of people who had put themselves at risk to assist the United States and its allies,” lawyer James Lewis of the U.S. team said.

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Assange has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 counts for conspiring with Chelsea Manning to illegally obtain and disseminate classified national security documents. He could face a whopping 175-year prison sentence if eventually convicted. Assange has been held in London's Belmarsh prison since being expelled last April from his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

After one week of opening arguments, the case will resume in May, when both sides will present evidence.