News UK court denies Julian Assange’s application for bail
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UK court denies Julian Assange’s application for bail

Supporters outside Westminster Magistrates' Court, where Julian Assange's legal team argued for conditional bail on Wednesday. Photo: PA
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail by a UK court because a judge said there is a risk he may abscond while the United States tries to secure his extradition from Britain.

Assange has spent more than eight years either holed up in London’s Ecuadorean embassy or in jail.

But on Monday he won an attempt to stop his extradition to the United States to face 18 criminal charges of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers.

He had then asked to be bailed.

“I am satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that if Mr Assange is released today he would fail to surrender to court to face the appeal proceedings,” District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said.

The US Department of Justice says it will continue to seek Assange’s extradition.

“As far as Mr Assange is concerned this case has not yet been won … the outcome of this appeal is not yet known,” the judge said.

The judge also explained that the conditions at Belmarsh Prison, where Assange is being held, bear no resemblance to those he would be put under in the United States.

Wednesday’s decision dashed the hopes of Assange’s supporters and his partner, and mother of his two sons, Stella Moris, who had tweeted: ‘‘On my way to court. I hope that by the time I leave, Julian will be by my side.”

Investigative journalist John Pilger said the decision by Judge Baraitser, whom he described as ‘‘the Queen of Cruelty’’, included ‘‘an informed hint from Washington that Biden may not pursue an appeal to the UK High Court’’.

In Monday’s decision, Judge Baraitser ruled the extradition to the US was unwarranted on mental health grounds and could result in Assange’s death.

Outlining her decision that “extradition would be oppressive by reason of Assange’s mental health”, Judge Baraitser told London’s Central Criminal Court she was satisfied that procedures described by the US would not prevent Assange, 49, from finding a way to commit suicide in a US supermax prison.

Acknowledging doctors’ opinions that Assange suffers from recurrent depressive disorder and is autistic, Judge Baraitser said Assange was “at a high risk of suicide”.

Asylum offers

But hope remains for the WikiLeaks founder.

By Tuesday morning, Assange had received a public offer for political asylum as messages of support came in from around the world.

Mexico’s president said Assange deserved protection.

“Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favour of pardoning him,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

It was a more lukewarm response from the Australian Prime Minister though, with Scott Morrison saying while Australia was not a party to the case, Assange was being offered continuous consular support as he continues to fight his case.

“Assuming that all that turns out, then he’s like any other Australian _ he’d be free to return home if he wished,” Mr Morrison told Melbourne radio 3AW on Tuesday.

A court sketch of Julian Assange in September.

WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables that laid bare often critical US appraisals of world leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

Assange made international headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad.

Admirers hail Australian-born Assange as a hero for exposing what they describe as abuses of power by the United States.

But detractors cast him as a dangerous figure who has undermined the security of the West, and dispute that he is a journalist.

In June 2012, Assange fled to London’s Ecuadorean embassy after losing his bid to prevent extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.

He remained in the embassy, in confined conditions, until dragged out in April 2019.

Although the Swedish case against him had been dropped by then, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions and his supporters forfeited sureties of £93,500 ($163,700).

-with AAP

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