LONDON (AP) — A British judge on Wednesday denied bail to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, ordering him to remain in a high-security prison while U.K. courts decide whether he will be sent to the United States to face espionage charges.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange must remain in prison while the courts consider an appeal by U.S. authorities against her decision not to extradite him.
The judge said Assange “has an incentive to abscond” and there is a good chance he would fail to return to court if freed.
On Monday, Baraitser rejected an American request to send Assange to the U.S. to face spying charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago. She denied extradition on health grounds, saying the 49-year-old Australian was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
Wednesday’s bail ruling means Assange must remain in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison where he has been held since he was arrested in April 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle seven years earlier.
Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, said the decision was “a huge disappointment.” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said “it is inhumane. It is illogical.”
Several dozen Assange supporters gathered outside London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, shouting “Free Assange.” Police said seven people were arrested for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.
Lawyers for the U.S. government have appealed the decision not to extradite Assange, and the case will be heard by Britain’s Hugh Court at an unspecified date.
Clair Dobbin, a British lawyer acting for the U.S., said Assange had shown he would go “to almost any length” to avoid extradition, and it was likely he would flee if granted bail.
She noted that Assange had spent seven years inside Ecuadorian Embassy in London after seeking refuge there from a Swedish extradition request in 2012.
Dobbin said Assange had the “resources, abilities and sheer wherewithal” to evade justice once again, and noted that Mexico has said it will offer him asylum.
But Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said the judge’s decision to refuse extradition “massively reduces” any motivation to abscond.
“Mr. Assange has every reason to stay in this jurisdiction where he has the protection of the rule of law and this court’s decision,” he said.
Fitzgerald said it’s also unclear whether the incoming Joe Biden administration will pursue the prosecution, initiated under President Donald Trump.
Fitzgerald said Assange would be safer awaiting the outcome of the judicial process at home with Moris and their two young sons — fathered while he was in the embassy — than in prison, where there is “a very grave crisis of COVID.”
But the judge ruled that Assange still had a strong motive to flee.
“As far as Mr. Assange is concerned this case has not yet been won,” she said. “Mr. Assange still has an incentive to…
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