World News

U.K. Judge Upholds Assange’s Arrest Warrant

Posted February 6, 2018 2:14 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2018 2:18 p.m. EST

LONDON — A British judge upheld the arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday, assuring that he would remain ensconced in the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has been for the past 5 1/2 years.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot did not immediately explain her reasons, saying only, “I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn.”

After the ruling, one of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Summers, asked whether it was in the public interest to keep pursuing his client for breach of bail.

“Normally,” Arbuthnot said, “such issues would only be considered if somebody were brought to court to explain their failure to surrender to bail.”

Summers replied, “There are exceptional circumstances.”

Arbuthnot said she would rule Feb. 13 on a new bid to have the arrest warrant against Assange dropped on the grounds of public interest.

Even if the warrant had been dropped, it was never assured that Assange would have left the embassy, although Ecuador recently granted him citizenship. Still hanging over him is the possibility of a secret extradition request from the United States, where he faces prosecution for leaking documents that U.S. officials have deemed damaging to national security.

WikiLeaks has published thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables from the U.S. government. Once a darling of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Assange became persona non grata after WikiLeaks published emails that Russia had hacked from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“No one can credibly deny that risk,” his lawyer in Britain, Jennifer Robinson, had said earlier of the prospect of a U.S. extradition request. “The U.S. Attorney General has said it is still a priority to prosecute Mr. Assange.”

“The head of the CIA has described WikiLeaks as a hostile nonstate intelligence agency,” Robinson told an Australian online news outlet. “In these circumstances, we remain concerned about the risk of extradition to the U.S.”

Assange, 46, has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy since 2012, after Swedish prosecutors sought his arrest over allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Sweden has since dropped the investigation, but Assange chose to remain in the embassy out of fear of being arrested for breaching bail conditions in Britain and of being extradited to the United States.

Last month, the Foreign Office in London refused to grant Assange diplomatic immunity, which would have given him certain protections and might have allowed him to leave the embassy without facing arrest, including over a U.S. extradition request.