London, United Kingdom— Despite a United Nations panel finding that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is “arbitrarily being detained” and Swedish prosecutors dropping their criminal investigation and request for extradition, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will continue to face arrest if he attempts to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after a UK judge upheld a warrant for breaching his formal bail conditions in the UK. Assange maintains that he was forced to seek political asylum in the embassy to avoid political persecution.
A report by The Guardian noted that Senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot was not swayed by the legal argument put forth by Assange’s legal team that his prosecution was not in the public interest to arrest him for bail jumping. It is worth noting that if there is a secret indictment in the U.S., the pretense of arresting Assange for bail jumping could be used to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges.
“I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr. Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” Arbuthnot stated. “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.”
The warrant upheld by the judge was due to Assange’s seeking of political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012, to avoid Sweden’s attempts to extradite him over the investigation into allegations of sexual assault; the allegations were steadfastly denied by Assange and the investigation of the allegations was dropped in May 2017.
It has been suggested in earlier reports that there is a sealed secret grand jury indictment for Assange in the U.S., indicating the posibility that the attempted extradition to Sweden over rape charges, which he had steadfastly denied, were a strategic means of extraditing him to the U.S. by proxy.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said that U.S. government had clear intentions of prosecuting WikiLeaks.
“The UK FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] refuses to confirm or deny whether there is an extradition request for Mr Assange,” she said. “In our recent FoI challenge against the CPS […] the CPS refused to disclose certain material because it would ‘tip off’ Mr Assange about a possible US extradition request. It is time to acknowledge what the real issue is and has always been in this case: the risk of extradition to the US.”
Further revealing the deeply politicized nature of Assange’s detainment, just last month, after being granted citizenship by the Ecuadorian government, Ecuador applied for diplomatic status for the WikiLeaks founder. If awarded diplomat status, Assange could claim diplomatic immunity— which would theoretically grant him legal immunity— thus allowing him to leave the embassy without being arrested. The British Foreign Office turned down the request by Ecuador.
Assange’s lawyers had argued that the warrant should be withdrawn for numerous reasons, including the fact that Sweden was no longer seeking extradition and that arresting him would not be in the public interest or proportionate— noting his six years in the embassy were “adequate, if note severe” enough punishment— citing the UN panel ruling that his detention was “arbitrary.”
The Guardian reports that Assange attorney Mark Summers QC noted attempts by the UK government to maintain Assange’s detention— despite evidence that Sweden requested a withdrawal of the European arrest warrant for Assange— referring specifically to the fact that Sweden in October of 2013 advised Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers that it was necessary to withdraw the Swedish arrest warrant on grounds of proportionality. It wasn’t until 2017, four years later, that CPS chose to do abide by the request.
Additionally, Summers argued that Assange was justified in seeking refuge in the embassy, as he had a valid fear that US authorities were seeking to arrest him for WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents.