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U.K. Court Rejects U.S. Request To Extradite WikiLeaks Founder

NOEL KING, HOST:

This morning, we have news out of London involving the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. The U.S. government has been trying to get the U.K. to extradite him to face espionage charges here. A British judge has just rejected that request. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt has been following this one.

Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Noel.

KING: What was the judge's reasoning here?

LANGFITT: It was fascinating and also surprising because almost everyone in the courtroom up until the end of today's hearing thought it was going to go against Assange. The judge basically accepted Assange's lawyers and doctors who said that he suffered from a fragile mental condition, a depression and that he was a suicide risk. And the judge said he was a despairing man and he had the intellect and determination to get around any suicide prevention measures and that sending him to the American prison system would be oppressive because of his state of mind.

Now, I can't speak to, obviously, Assange's state of mind, but he has been transformed since when he first came on the international scene in 2010. He was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy here for almost seven years fighting extradition. And he looks to be a very, very different man. I mean, long gray hair and looks like he has had a very, very rough time living inside that embassy.

KING: Was Julian Assange in court for any of this? Has he said anything about any of this?

LANGFITT: He has not said anything yet. But I will tell you that when this happened, there were cheers outside of the courtroom. And you could hear people were really, really surprised because they thought he was going to be sent to the U.S. What they're saying is his - people who are supporting him say that his attorneys will apply for bail. I don't know if he'll it because he's already shown that he's a flight risk, and the U.S. is going to appeal this. So it's not over yet.

KING: Assange, in this case, made free speech a key part of his defense. What did the judge have to say about that?

LANGFITT: Well, this was a fascinating - Noel, she rejected it. And that's why everybody in the courtroom thought this was going to go against Assange. You know, Assange has always argued that back in 2010, when he basically revealed a bunch of military secrets of the Pentagon - enormous amounts - that he was just acting as an investigative journalist. And some of these things, as you - people may remember. It was a long time ago, but they were videos in Iraq of Apache helicopters - U.S. Apache helicopters shooting and killing civilians. The military was extremely upset about this because it - they feared that it would put people at risk who work for the government. And Assange all along said, I'm just being a reporter.

Well, what happened is the U.S. government argued that Assange, when he alleged - allegedly offered to help Chelsea Manning - she was a defense intelligence analyst at the time - try to break in a password to get into the Pentagon, that he went beyond the role of a journalist. And that's why most people thought until really just not too long ago that the judge could rule that he should go back to the States.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt with a surprising outcome in London.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.