With a British judge refusing to extradite Julian Assange to the US, supporters of the embattled WikiLeaks founder celebrated as he was spared the ordeal of the American prison system.

Assange, 49, is charged with 18 counts of conspiring to hack US government computers and the publication of confidential military records, including a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. A dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed in that attack. In a surprise ruling on Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to extradite Assange to the US, on the grounds that inhumane conditions in an American prison could drive him to suicide.

As crowds embraced outside London’s Old Bailey, Judge Baraitser’s decision was cheered online by free speech activists and Assange’s supporters. NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has also been charged with espionage for revealing the agency’s massive domestic spying operation, tweeted, “Let this be the end of it.”

Let this be the end of it.

Journalist and filmmaker John Pilger – a vocal advocate for Assange – cheered the decision, but called Baraitser’s focus on the suicide risk rather than Assange’s right to publish incriminating information a “face-saving cover” by British authorities to “justify their disgraceful political trial.”

Baraitser did not question the legitimacy of the charges against Assange, and even asserted that freedom-of-speech rights do not provide “unfettered discretion” to publish as one sees fit. A number of prominent pundits and activists echoed Pilger’s sentiment, with journalist Glenn Greenwald declaring that “this wasn’t a victory for press freedom,” but “an indictment of the insanely oppressive US prison system.”

We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA, but this does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial.

Still, the chance that Assange may soon see freedom was cause for celebration alone. Figures on all sides of the political spectrum joined in, with Labour Party MP Diane Abbott, contrarian pundit Peter Hitchens, and former MP George Galloway among those celebrating. Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that “extradition would be an attack on press freedom.”

Julian is free. By the grace of God. #Assange

Today’s court ruling to not extradite Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges is the right decision. He should be released from Belmarsh prison immediately.

Whatever the official arguments are, the decision not to extradite #Assange is historical for the right to information. It does not add an additional threat to investigative journalism. An extradition would have set a precedent. For those who defend him, it is a huge relief.

Assange’s legal team has said the US will likely appeal Baraitser’s verdict in London’s High Court, with the possibility it may be taken as far as the UK’s Supreme Court. Following the verdict, Assange returned to Belmarsh Prison, to await a bail hearing on Wednesday.

In the US, his supporters have pressed President Donald Trump to pardon him. Trump has given no indication thus far that he will. Nevertheless, Assange’s fiancée, Stella Moris, summed up the mood among many of his supporters. “Today is a victory for Julian,” she read from a statement outside the court. “Today’s victory is a first step towards justice in this case.”

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