Infamous Wikileaks founder Julian Assange lost his legal battle to have a UK arrest warrant against him dropped, with Judge Emma Arbuthnot ruling against him on Tuesday.
Assange and his legal team immediately launched another recourse to have British authorities stop any action against him on public interest grounds. A decision in his favour would allow him to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, his “home” for the last five years.
The 46-year-old Australian-born hacker entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced allegations of rape.
After a seven-year legal ordeal the case has been dropped, but Assange is still subject to a British warrant for violation of his bail conditions.
He’s said repeatedly that he fled to Ecuador’s embassy in fear that Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face charges over his release of classified military and diplomatic documents on his platform, Wikileaks.
This latest legal setback impedes him from leaving the embassy without being arrested on the British warrant.
Assange’s legal team argued that there was no point in maintaining the British warrant since the Swedish case was already dismissed.
During the hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, senior district judge Arbuthnot said, “I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn.”
Although there have been reports of Assange’s physical and mental health deteriorating during his years in the embassy, Arbuthnot didn’t have any of it.
“His health issues are not that bad,” she said. On February 13th, Arbuthnot will give her final decision on the points raised by Assange’s lawyers.
In making the public interest case, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers QC, said the punishment Assange faces was not proportionate, and therefore not in the interests of justice. Arbuthnot said that she would rule on the point on 13 February.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said a United Nations working group labelled the situation as “arbitrary, unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate”.
“The last five-and-a-half years he has spent might be thought adequate, if not severe punishment for the actions he took,” he said.
Even if Assange gets a favourable ruling next Tuesday, it remains highly unlikely that he will be able to leave the embassy immediately.
He believes that the United States will pressure British authorities to arrest him under an extradition warrant. If such an extradition warrant exists, his legal team expects that a court victory next week will prompt British authorities to disclose it.
“We must confront the real issue in this case — if Julian Assange walks out of the embassy today, he risks facing extradition to the US to face prosecution for publishing information in the public interest with Wikileaks,” read a statement from Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team.
“Mr Assange remains ready to face British justice … but not at the risk of being forced to face American injustice,” she added.