7 Feb 2018

Judge maintains Assange UK arrest warrant

8:28 am on 7 February 2018

A UK warrant to arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still valid, a British court has ruled.

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London.

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London. Photo: AFP / Jay Shaw Baker / NurPhoto

Mr Assange's lawyers went to court last month to argue the warrant served no purpose because he was no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden in relation to alleged sex offences.

At Westminster Magistrates' Court, senior district judge and chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said that having considered the arguments she was "not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn".

She told the court that not surrendering to bail was a stand-alone offence under the Bail Act and Mr Assange must explain why he had failed to do so.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

His lawyers went on to argue that his case should be discontinued on the grounds that his treatment was not proportionate in the interests of justice. The court will rule on that on 13 February.

An Australian who has been granted Ecuadorian citizenship, Mr Assange is wanted in Britain for breaching his bail conditions when he entered the embassy, instead of handing himself in to be sent to Sweden.

He ultimately fears extradition to the United States, where he is wanted for publishing leaked military and diplomatic documents.

Wikileaks, which was founded by Mr Assange in 2006, has been involved in several high-profile releases of classified US information.

It made headlines around the world in April 2010 when it released footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.

Mr Assange promoted and defended the video, as well as a massive release of classified US military documents relating to the Afghan and Iraq wars in July and October 2010.

The website continued to release new documents, including five million confidential emails from US-based intelligence company Stratfor.

Mr Assange's lawyer Mark Summers QC said his client had "had reasonable grounds for the course that he took".

He said the UN had ruled that Mr Assange's situation at present was "arbitrary, unreasonable and disproportionate" and his conduct in failing to answer bail had not had "the usual consequence of paralysing the underlying legal proceedings".

Mr Summers said Mr Assange had "at all times" offered to cooperate with the Swedish investigation and the five and a half years he had spent in the embassy in London "may be thought to be adequate, if not severe punishment, for the actions that he took".

After the hearing, his legal team said they would continue to seek assurances that the UK did not have a US extradition warrant and would let him leave the country freely and without interference.

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