LONDON – Julian Assange on Tuesday lost a second bid to quash a British arrest warrant, another setback for the WikiLeaks founder, who has spent almost six years holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot denied a request by Assange’s lawyers to lift a British warrant that was issued after Assange jumped bail when Swedish authorities sought him for questioning about alleged sexual assaults.
The Swedish case was dropped last year, but the arrest warrant for skipping bail in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador’s embassy still holds, the judge ruled. Assange has strongly denied the Swedish accusations.
In London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Assange sought to have the British warrant lifted, saying it no longer served the public interest.
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Assange’s lawyers argued that their client was justified in his actions because of fears that he would be extradited to the United States to face possible charges for his role in WikiLeaks’ dissemination of troves of highly classified U.S. documents.
They also said the five years that Assange has spent holed up in the embassy amounted to “adequate, if not severe, punishment” for skipping bail. The lawyers cited a U.N. panel on detentions that described Assange as “arbitrarily detained.”
But Arbuthnot was withering in her responses – in writing and in her courtroom remarks.
“I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr. Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” the judge said.
“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” she said. “He should have the courage to do the same. It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.”
After the ruling, Assange claimed there were “significant factual errors in the judgment” and suggested he might appeal.
“There are 3 months to appeal UK ruling,” he wrote in a Twitter message.
Assange’s lawyers further claimed that in his confinement at Ecuador’s embassy, the 46-year-old suffers from ailments and lack of sunshine. The judge replied: “I do not accept there is no sunlight. There are a number of photographs of him on a balcony connected to the premises he inhabits. Mr. Assange’s health problems could be much worse.”
The judge also dismissed his arguments that Sweden would have extradited him to the United States.
“I accept that Mr. Assange had expressed fears of being returned to the United States from a very early stage in the Swedish extradition proceedings but, absent any evidence from Mr. Assange on oath, I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable.”
The judge added that she does “not accept that Sweden would have rendered Mr. Assange to the United States” and risk touching off a diplomatic crisis involving Britain, Sweden and the United States.
The judge’s decision came after Assange lost a separate legal challenge last week.
In that ruling, his lawyers argued that the arrest warrant should be dropped because it had “lost its purpose” after Sweden shelved its investigation into sexual assault allegations because it could not get access to him.
Even if the bail arrest warrant were lifted, it is unknown whether Assange would leave the embassy and where he would go in that event. It is also unclear whether he would immediately face extradition requests if he stepped outside the embassy, which is monitored by security cameras.
Assange has long argued that there is an effort underway in the United States to charge him for publishing classified documents.
It is not publicly known whether there is a sealed indictment against Assange. The Trump administration has reportedly weighed invoking the 1917 Espionage Act.
Media reports have suggested a sometimes strained relationship between Assange and his hosts. At one point, Ecuador severed Assange’s Internet connection over concerns that WikiLeaks was meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election after the anti-secrecy website published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee.