In a pivotal moment for Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange's long-running legal battle to regain his freedom after spending the last six years without sunlight at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, a UK judge delivered a disappointing ruling for Assange's defense team.
After repudiating Assange's lawyers characterization of the circumstances of his confinement, the judge has rejected his bid to have the warrant dropped, upholding the state's case against the renown political dissident - who violated the terms of his bail in 2012 to show up at the Ecuadorian embassy disguised as a motorcycle courier.
Judge refuses to withdraw Julian Assange arrest warrant. https://t.co/FQJJ4hxKzx— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) February 13, 2018
Though the process isn't over yet, the judge's ruling that he had no reason to fear extradition to the US is a huge blow to his case for having the UK warrant dropped. In particular, the judge said Assange could leave the embassy whenever he liked, could have unlimited visitors, could choose when he eats and sleeps and exercises and even had access to sunlight via a balcony. Assange's lawyers had also argued that his years inside the embassy were "adequate" punishment for any crimes he may or may not have committed.
Gasps in public gallery as judge says Assange can ‘leave the (Ecuadorian Embassy) whenever he likes, have unlimited visitors unsupervised, can choose when he eats, sleeps and exercises’. She’s knocking down most of Assange case to have arrest warrant dropped #Assange #wikileaks— Lisa Millar (@LisaMillar) February 13, 2018
Sweden dropped rape charges against Assange nearly 10 months ago, but the UK has refused to let him off the hook. In fact, reporters discovered that Sweden wanted to drop its pursuit years ago, but was persuaded to continue by Assange...
According tothe Guardian, Assange also suspects there is a secret US grand jury indictment against him and American authorities will seek his extradition.
It appears as if the UK arrest warrant will be left in place, as Assange suggested in a tweet.
Not looking good. So far, judge is just defending UK state actions.— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) February 13, 2018
A bid to lift the arrest warrant last week was rejected when Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected the notion that Sweden’s dropping of the case against Assange meant that the British authorities should no longer want him in custody. His defense team is arguing that Assange's further detention would not serve justice. Assange has argued that if he hadn’t fled to the embassy, he would have been extradited to the US to face an unfair trial for his work, which he believes is essentially not different from investigative journalism.
In December, Assange received Ecuadorian citizenship, but the UK indicated it would not recognize his diplomatic status if requested by the Latin American nation, denying Assange the diplomatic immunity that would've allowed him to leave.
The UN has twice ruled that Assange is being improperly detained in the UK, and investigative work done by an Italian journalist uncovered malfeasance at the Crown Prosecution Service.
The judge also said that, if extradition motions were taken against Assange, he would be able to contest those.
To be sure, the process isn't over yet. Assange noted that even if he loses the first point, the hearing may immediately continue on another...
Today, 2pm GMT, 9am EST, judge rules on whether to lift my UK arrest warrant following revelations of improper conduct by the UK government. Note that a win is a win, but even if we lose the first point today the hearing may immediately continue on another https://t.co/LFGCOIS2ev— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) February 13, 2018