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6 Feb, 2018 14:18

Arrest warrant upheld in Julian Assange case, new hearing on February 13

A British judge will rule on February 13 whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can have his arrest warrant, for breaching bail conditions, lifted on “public interest grounds.”

Judge Emma Arbuthnot had earlier rejected a bid by Assange, who is holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to have an arrest warrant against him dropped on different grounds.

Speaking outside court, Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said all of us should be resisting the threat to free speech posed by the persecution of Assange.

“We hope this situation will come to an end very soon and we look forward to the decision next week,” Robinson said. “[The outcome on Tuesday] is not disappointing, we finally had the court understand the public interest of this case.”  

According to Assange, only the first technical point of his legal challenge has failed. Judges will hear and decide on the other points on Tuesday afternoon, and if Assange wins any of them, the warrant falls.

The Judicial Office tweeted the judgment on Tuesday afternoon. Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot said in her ruling: “Having considered the arguments … I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn.”

Assange, 46, absconded in 2012 to enter the Ecuadorian embassy, to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault and rape. However, Swedish prosecutors have since dropped those charges.

Still, Assange has been unable to leave the embassy in London, as he faced arrest for breaching his bail conditions in the UK.

Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, argued that the arrest warrant should be dropped because it had “lost its purpose and its function,” citing the dropped charges against Assange in Sweden.

“[Assange] has spent five-and-a-half years in conditions which, on any view, are akin to imprisonment, without access to adequate medical care or sunlight, in circumstances where his physical and psychological health have deteriorated and are in serious peril,” Summers wrote in court papers, as quoted by the Guardian. 

However, Aaron Watkins, who represents the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), called Summers’ argument “strange and untenable,” adding that it was an attempt at “contorting legislation” to allow Assange to leave the embassy.

“Assange had been released on bail in proceedings; he was under a duty to surrender to the custody of the court and he failed to surrender at the appointed time for him to do so. Therefore the warrant stands,” Watkins said, calling Assange’s situation “extremely simple.”

Assange was made an Ecuadorian citizen in December. However, the UK refused to recognize him as having diplomatic status, which would have given him legal immunity and allowed him to leave the embassy.

Even if Assange's arrest warrant has been dropped, he could have still been extradited to the US to face trial over WikiLeaks' publication of classified US military and diplomatic documents in 2010 – which amounted to one of the largest information leaks in United States history.

If found guilty in a US court, Assange could face life imprisonment – or possibly even the death penalty – under the Espionage Act. British authorities have declined to confirm or deny if a US extradition warrant has been received.

The Wikileaks founder has consistently denied the allegations of rape and sexual assault.