Julian Assange remains in limbo in the Ecuadorian embassy after a UK judge ruled the WikiLeaks founder “should have the courage” to face court over a long-standing arrest warrant.
Mr Assange has been fighting to have a British arrest warrant for breaching bail dropped, claiming he fears an extradition order from the US may be delivered if he were to face the UK courts.
The Australian breached his bail when he sought refuge in the embassy while fighting a Swedish extradition order in 2012.
Last week at Westminster Magistrates Court, Judge Emma Arbuthnot dismissed Mr Assange’s argument that the arrest warrant was no longer valid because Swedish authorities had dropped an investigation into rape allegations against him.
Mr Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers QC then argued it was not in the public interest for the court to uphold the warrant.
However, Judge Arbuthnot rejected that argument in a damning ruling on Tuesday afternoon (early Wednesday AEDT).
Judge Arbuthnot rejected all of Mr Assange’s legal arguments, including dismissing claims by a UN working group that he had been arbitrarily detained.
“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” Judge Arbuthnot told the court as she delivered her judgment.
“He [Mr Assange] should have the courage to do so too.”
In a tweet, Mr Assange claimed Judge Arbuthnot had been mistaken in her ruling and indicated he will appeal the decision.
“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 [US Department of Justice] confirmed to Reuters again yesterday that its case is ongoing. There are 3 months to appeal judge’s decision.”
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.
— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) February 13, 2018
Mr Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than five years, claiming he can’t leave because the US will extradite him for WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US defence and intelligence documents.
Last year, a United Nations working group found that Mr Assange had been arbitrarily detained, but Judge Arbuthnot said the finding was based on a misunderstanding of Mr Assange’s situation.
Judge Arbuthnot said Mr Assange had been briefly held in the UK’s Wandsworth Prison before being released on conditional bail, the conditions of which were put forward by Mr Assange’s legal counsel, and that the final decision to flee to the embassy had been his.
There was a distinction between Mr Assange being held in prison and his situation in the embassy, Judge Arbuthnot said, as she excoriated the working group’s findings.
“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 assertion,” she said.
“I do not find that Mr Assange’s stay in the embassy is inappropriate, unjust, unpredictable, unreasonable, unnecessary or disproportionate.”
Her view was greeted with gasps and angry cries from Mr Assange supporters in a full public gallery at the court.
Mr Assange’s legal team had also argued Mr Assange had reasonable grounds to fear US extradition from Sweden and therefore to breach bail in the UK; five-and-a-half years in the embassy was punishment enough given the maximum term for breaching bail is only 12 months; the law has since changed and Sweden would not be able to extradite Mr Assange now; and Assange had always been willing to be interviewed by Sweden investigators.
“Having weighed up the factors for and against and considered Mr Summers’ arguments, I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” Judge Arbuthnot said.
“It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.”
The legal push was the latest attempt by Mr Assange to leave the embassy.
In December, Ecuador made Assange a citizen and tried to appoint him a diplomat, giving him immunity, but the British Foreign Office rejected the application.