Assange bid to cancel UK arrest warrant rejected

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, right, appears at the window before speaking on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (AP)

A judge ruled to uphold a warrant on the WikiLeaks founder after another application from Assange’s lawyers asking to consider whether it would be in the “public interest” to keep the warrant in place.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lost a legal bid on Tuesday to persuade the British authorities to drop any further action against him for breaching his bail conditions when he walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012.

Assange, 46, fled to the embassy after skipping bail to avoid being sent to Sweden to face an allegation of rape, which he denied. The Swedish case was dropped in May last year, but Britain still has a warrant for his arrest over the breach of bail terms.

Assange has not left the embassy since he first walked in nearly six years ago and his lawyers had argued in a court hearing last week that it was no longer in the interests of justice for British authorities to seek to arrest and prosecute him for skipping bail.

“Having weighed up the factors for and against … I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” judge Emma Arbuthnot said in her ruling at Westminster Magistrates Court.

“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,” she said.

Journalist Andrew Wilson has more on the story from outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Public interest

Assange fears that arrest by British authorities could lead to him being extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year said his arrest was a “priority”.

Assange wrote on Twitter that his latest legal argument hinged on an alleged “cover-up” by the British government to keep him detained.

He highlighted a Guardian report which quoted emails sent by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to Swedish counterparts in 2012, urging them not to drop their application for a European arrest warrant.

In the emails, a CPS lawyer apparently commented on a 2012 article saying that Sweden was dropping the case by writing: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”

Swedish prosecutors told the CPS in 2013 that they “felt obliged” to lift the warrant, but only announced last year that it had finally been dropped.

The CPS also admitted it destroyed emails relating to the case after the lawyer handling the British response retired in 2014.

Ecuador’s foreign ministry said it wants to reach a solution with Britain that satisfies both sides and respects Assange’s human rights.

Akin to imprisonment

Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said his client had been living in conditions “akin to imprisonment” and his “psychological health” has deteriorated and was “in serious peril”.

“The last five-and-a-half years that he has spent may be thought to be adequate, if not severe punishment, for the actions that he took,” Summers told court.

The court heard that the 46-year-old was suffering from a bad tooth, a frozen shoulder and depression.

Assange only very rarely emerges onto the balcony of the embassy building, citing concerns for his personal safety, but he frequently takes part in media conferences and campaigns via video link.

Ecuador in December granted citizenship to the Australian-born Assange, and asked Britain to recognise him as a diplomat, in an unsuccessful attempt to provide him with immunity and usher him out of the embassy without the threat of arrest.

But London swiftly rejected the move.

“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the British government said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
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