Assange stalemate drags on as judge rules arrest warrant stands

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LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday lost his second bid in a week to overturn an arrest warrant that prompted him to take refuge in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy nearly six years ago.

A judge ruled the warrant must stand, leaving Assange’s legal position unchanged. Senior district judge, Emma Arbuthnot, dismissed a first attempt to have the warrant dropped last Tuesday.

British authorities issued the warrant in 2012 after Assange, 46, skipped bail to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he faced allegations from two women of rape and sexual assault dating to 2010.

Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Jack Taylor / AFP – Getty Images file

Swedish authorities dropped their investigation last year after concluding there was no reasonable hope of bringing Assange to Stockholm to answer questions, but his British warrant remained outstanding. Marianne Ny, the chief prosecutor in Sweden stressed that she was not declaring Assange innocent, only that he no longer faces any charges in the country. Assange denies the accusations.

Lawyers for Assange argued last week that the warrant ought to be dropped given the Swedish investigation into their client had been terminated but their motion was ruled against. They then launched a second attempt saying that there was insufficient public interest in upholding the warrant.

His lawyers argued that the years Assange had spent confined to the embassy had been an “adequate, if not severe punishment.” A United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in February 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily detained although British authorities rejected the finding, saying Assange was “in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest.”

The lawyers also said Assange had had “reasonable grounds” for taking refuge in the embassy because of his fear that he would be deported to the U.S. to face justice for publishing secret documents on WikiLeaks.

“This case is and always has been about the risk of extradition to the United States,” Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team, said last week.

She also called on the UK to “provide an assurance against extradition.”

It is not known whether Assange faces a U.S. indictment because of secrecy rules governing grand jury decisions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters last April that arresting Assange was “a priority.”

“We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” Sessions added.

Despite promising in August 2014 that he would leave the embassy “soon,” he would face arrest for jumping bail if he did so. British police stopped maintaining a round-the-clock security presence outside the embassy in October 2015.

Assange rose to prominence after the whistleblower WikiLeaks published a trove of classified U.S. military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The leaks were the largest of their kind in U.S. military history.

Since then, WikiLeaks released more than 250,000 secret diplomatic cables, as well as emails hacked from the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election.

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