A British judge refused to withdraw an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange before a packed courtroom on Tuesday, dismissing several arguments submitted by his legal team.
Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, in handing down her judgement at Westminster magistrates court, argued that it was still in the public interest to pursue Assange and, more controversially, rejected the 2016 finding of a United Nations human rights working group that Assange was the victim of arbitrary detention.
“Firstly, he can leave the embassy whenever he wishes; secondly, he is free to receive, it would seem, an unlimited number of visitors and those visits are not supervised; thirdly, he can choose the food he eats, the time he sleeps and exercises,” she commented in the ruling. “He can sit on the balcony, I accept probably observed by the police and his supporters, to take the air. He is not locked in at night.”
“I suspect if one were to ask one of the men incarcerated in Wandsworth prison whether conditions in the Ecuadorian embassy were akin to a remand in custody, the prisoner would dispute the working group’s assertions.”
Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, where he fled to avoid being extradited to Sweden. At the time he faced an investigation related to allegations of sexual assault, which he has always denied and criticized as a political ruse.
It was argued by Assange’s legal representative, Mark Summers, that the Australian national feared that extradition to Sweden would result in him being turned over to U.S. federal authorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that Assange’s arrest was a Justice Department priority, although no charges have not been made public. It’s believed any indictment is related to Wikileaks publishing documents and cables delivered to them by former U.S. military analyst Chelsea Manning on the Iraq War.
Despite the fact that Swedish authorities have now dropped their investigation completely, it was ruled on Tuesday that Assange would still face arrest if he leaves the protection of the embassy for breaching his original bail conditions. It was on this point that the judge held that is was within the public interest because the Australian national’s “failure to surrender has impeded the court of justice.”
“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” Arbuthnot continued in Tuesday’s court hearing. “He should have the courage to do the same. It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.”
“We are surprised,” Assange tweeted from the Ecuadorian embassy. “Judge went well outside what the parties presented in court. This seems to have led to many factual errors in the judgment.”
Statement on ruling: We are surprised. Judge went well outside what the parties presented in court. This seems to have led to many factual errors in the judgment. US DoJ confirmed to Reuters again yesterday that its case is ongoing. There are 3 months to appeal judge's decision.
— Defend Assange Campaign (@DefendAssange) February 13, 2018