British court upholds arrest warrant for Julian Assange

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The British arrest warrant against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains valid, a court in London ruled on Tuesday, saying that he must surrender to the authorities before judges are able to consider his defense for jumping bail.

The fact that Sweden has dropped its arrest warrant is not enough on its own to drop the UK warrant, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London said in its decision, noting that it is not uncommon for Bail Act offenses to be pursued even when the underlying proceedings have ended.

Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot explained in her decision that a person who has been released on bail commits a crime when he or she fails to surrender without “reasonable cause.” But to be able to consider Assange’s defense, he must first appear before court, the judge said.

“Once at court, the defendant would be given the opportunity to explain his failure to surrender and that is when Mr Assange would be able to place before the court his reasonable cause for failing to do so,” Arbuthnot said in her ruling.

Tuesday’s decision means that Assange’s situation remains unchanged after more than 5.5 years.

Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in June 2012 after the UK’s top court approved his extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape allegations. The Ecuadorian government later granted political asylum to allow Assange to stay inside the embassy, beyond the reach of British police.

Swedish prosecutors announced in May 2017 that they were dropping both the arrest warrant and the rape investigation. But British police said Assange would still be arrested if he tries to leave the embassy, citing a British warrant which was issued after he failed to surrender for his extradition.

In addition, the United Kingdom has refused to say whether it has received an extradition request from the United States.

The accusations were unrelated to Assange’s work for the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, which unleashed a diplomatic scandal for the United States when it began releasing classified documents. Assange claims that the allegations are politically-linked, arguing that the sexual encounters in Sweden were consensual.

The accusations came just months after WikiLeaks’ first big scoop in April 2010, when it released a classified video which showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed several unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists. Assange said in earlier interviews that he had been told to expect “dirty tricks” from the Pentagon, including “sex traps” to ruin his reputation.

More recently, WikiLeaks published stolen emails relating to the presidential campaign of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This prompted Ecuador to temporarily cut Assange’s internet access at the embassy, citing its policy not to intervene in the internal affairs of other states.

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