Julian Assange Is Denied Bail by U.Ok. Choose
LONDON – A judge in London on Wednesday declined to release Julian Assange on bail while awaiting a final resolution on the case of extraditing him to the United States on charges of espionage law violation.
On Monday, the judge ruled that Mr. Assange could not be extradited to the United States because he was at risk of suicide, and his lawyers tried to bail him while the appeal process is ongoing. Wednesday’s decision was a setback for the WikiLeaks founder, who has been trying for years to avoid trial in the United States over allegations that his supporters say pose a threat to press freedom.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Wednesday that Mr. Assange has an incentive to escape and that he must remain in jail while US prosecutors challenge her decision to block extradition.
Assange, 49, was charged by US authorities in 2019 with 17 cases of espionage law violations and computer abuse for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If found guilty in all respects, he faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years.
On Monday, Judge Baraitser ruled that Mr. Assange, who suffers from depression and has an autism spectrum disorder, could not be extradited because “it would be unfair and depressing given his mental state.”
However, the judge rejected the arguments put forward by Mr Assange’s legal team that the charges against him were an attack on freedom of the press and were politically motivated.
Claire Dobbin, a lawyer representing the United States, said Wednesday that American prosecutors would appeal the extradition ruling, which is likely to keep Mr Assange’s case in UK courts for at least several months. The case could eventually go to the UK Supreme Court.
In 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks founder Mr. Assange released confidential military and diplomatic documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, provided by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. In 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was investigated on rape allegations. This investigation was later discontinued.
He spent seven years at the embassy, where he continued to run WikiLeaks as a self-proclaimed political refugee. British police arrested him in 2019.
Since then, Assange, an Australian national, has been held in Belmarsh, a maximum security prison in London, where he was serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. He completed that sentence but remained in jail while the American extradition case goes through the UK courts.
Doctors and experts who examined Mr. Assange in prison said during the extradition negotiations that he was suffering from depression and memory loss.
“I can confirm that his health has seriously deteriorated and his life is now in danger,” said Nils Melzer, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Ill-Treatment, last month when he asked President Trump to apologize to Mr. Assange. Mr. Melzer, who visited Mr. Assange in prison, said last year that his detention was “psychological torture”.
During the hearings, attorneys argued that Mr Assange’s mental health would be deteriorating if he were extradited, pointing out that Mr Assange and other inmates in Belmarsh were in prison for months after a coronavirus outbreak.
Should Mr Assange ultimately lose in the UK, his legal team could also try to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that if a higher court in Britain ultimately blocks the extradition of Mr Assange to the United States, he could “return to Australia like any other Australian”.