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Julian Assange's lawyer warns of suicide risk if he's extradited to the US

Key Points
  • A U.K. court on Monday began to consider whether Julian Assange should be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
  • The WikiLeaks founder is wanted by U.S. authorities over 18 criminal counts.
  • Lawyers for the U.S. argued that Assange's publication of classified information put U.S. allies' lives at risk.
  • Assange's lawyer said his mental health could be at risk if he is extradited.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, Julian Assange's father, John Shipton, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood march on February 22, 2020 against the U.K. government's intention to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S.
Hollie Adams | Getty Images

Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States as he would be a suicide risk, his lawyer argued, as a U.K. court began to consider whether the WikiLeaks founder should face extradition.

Assange, an Australian citizen who spent seven years in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden on sex crime accusations, is wanted by U.S. authorities over 18 criminal counts, including violating espionage law.

In November, Swedish prosecutors dropped the nine-year investigation into a rape allegation made against Assange, eliminating the need for the U.K. to decide whether to extradite him to Sweden or the United States.

Lawyers for the U.S. argued in court Monday that Assange's publication of military secrets had risked the lives of people in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan who had assisted the West, Reuters reported. The United States' legal representative reportedly claimed some sources identified by WikiLeaks had subsequently disappeared, although it was noted that this could not be definitely linked to the leaked information.

Meanwhile, Assange's lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, claimed the case could lead to criminalizing activities that were essential to investigative journalism, according to the news agency. Reuters later reported that Fitzerald said Assange's mental health could be at risk if he was extradited to the U.S., adding that he would not get a fair trial.

Lawyers for Assange told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday that a verdict on his extradition could still be years away, as a decision was not expected until late summer and would be appealed if it went in the United States' favor.

Protesters from across Europe gathered in London on Saturday to demand Assange's release and rally against his potential extradition.

High-profile speakers addressed crowds during the march, including Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, who referred to Assange as "a courageous shiner of light into dark places from which the powers that be would dearly like to have us turn away."

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis also spoke at the protest, with Varoufakis describing WikiLeaks as "what every self-respecting news outlet ought to be."

He also announced that Euroleaks, a project he was launching with Assange, would "see the light of day" on March 10.

WikiLeaks made headlines in 2010 after publishing classified U.S. military footage of Apache helicopters carrying out a 2007 attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad. In the same year, the organization released more than 90,000 secret documents relating to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, as well as nearly 400,000 reports on America's military campaign in Iraq.

— Reuters contributed to this article