Saying she did not find "reasonable" his fears of being extradicted to the United States, a British judge on Tuesday refused to lift an arrest warrant for Julian Assange, despite Sweden recently dropping its extradition request for the Wikileaks' founder who has spent nearly five years living under asylum protection at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The Guardian reports:
Handing down her judgment before a packed courtroom at Westminster magistrates court, senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot said she was not persuaded by the argument from Assange’s legal team that it was not in the public interest to pursue him for skipping bail.
She said: "I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years.
"Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do the same. It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.
Assange, 46, skipped bail to enter the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denies.
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Though Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation against him, he faces arrest if he leaves the building in Knightsbridge, London, for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK.
After the ruling, Assange's legal team indicated it would appeal the ruling. "Whether it is pursued is another question," Gareth Peirce, one of his attorneys told reporters outside the court. "The history of the case from start to finish is extraordinary. Each aspect of it becomes puzzling and troubling as it is scrutinised."
Over the weekend it was revealed, through a release of previously unseen internal government emails, that authorities in the UK pressured Sweden to keep its extradition request for Assange even when Swedish officials indicated as early as 2013 that they would prefer to drop it. "Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!" a government lawyer told a Swedish counterpart when it was suggested Assange's detention was not proportionate to the request he submit to questions from law enforcement. Though Assange said from the outset he would answer any questions regarding the sexual assault charges, he repeatedly said it was only his fear of a secret U.S. indictment, and either Sweden or the UK extradicting him to the U.S., that led him to seek refuge in the embassy.
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
As his attorney Jennifer Robinson again made clear on Tuesday: "It is time to acknowledge what the real issue is and has always been in this case: the risk of extradition to the US."