WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange loses bid to have UK warrant dropped

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly six years to escape extradition to Sweden, has lost his latest bid to have his British arrest warrant dropped.

Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London ruled on February 6 that the warrant for jumping bail remains valid, but Assange’s legal team was allowed to present its arguments for dropping the warrant.

In the second ruling on Tuesday, Arbuthnot struck down a number of arguments, including the one that Assange’s arrest for jumping bail was no longer in the public interest because the underlying proceedings have ended and Sweden is no longer seeking his arrest.

“I have had to consider whether it is proportionate not to withdraw the warrant for his arrest,” Arbuthnot said. “On the one hand he is a man who has failed to attend court and has thwarted the course of justice but on the other he has been unable to leave a small flat for a number of years and is suffering physically and mentally as a result.”

Arbuthnot added: “Having weighed up the factors for and against and considered [his lawyer’s] arguments I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr. Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years. Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do so too.”

The judge also rejected claims that Assange’s time at the embassy, where he has stayed longer than a possible sentence for jumping bail, was equivalent to spending time in jail. Arbuthnot noted that Assange is free to leave, is free to receive visitors, can choose his food, can sit on the embassy’s balcony for sunlight, and is free to use his computer and mobile phone.

Assange did not immediately comment on Tuesday’s ruling, but he took issue with the judge’s suggestion that he is able to sit on the embassy’s balcony for sunlight. “Pulling security to get me safely on the balcony six times in six years for a few minutes turns into this,” he said on Twitter.

Lawyers for Assange further argued that years in a small room have taken a toll on his health. But Arbuthnot downplayed those claims after reading medical reports, although she recognized that Assange has a serious tooth problem and needs an MRI scan on a shoulder which has been described as frozen. He also suffers from depression and respiratory infections.

In rejecting Assange’s appeal, the judge said she also considered the drain on police resources caused by his failure to appear in court. “I must look at the impact on public confidence in the criminal justice system if Mr Assange is allowed to avoid a warrant for his arrest by staying out of reach of the police for years in conditions which are nothing like a prison,” she said.

Arbuthnot also criticized Assange personally, saying that he appears to be a man who wants to “impose his terms” on the course of justice. “He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor,” she said. “As long as the court process is going his way, he is willing to be bailed conditionally but as soon as the Supreme Court rules against him, he no longer wants to participate on the court’s terms but on his terms.”

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.

Assange has argued that he fears being extradited to the United States due to his work for WikiLeaks, but it’s unclear whether that is likely to happen. American authorities have refused to comment on the possibility of a sealed indictment.

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.

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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