UK Politics

Assange loses bid to have arrest warrant dropped

assange-loses-bid-to-have-arrest-warrant-dropped

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost his initial bid to have his UK arrest warrant dropped – but could still have it cancelled at another court hearing next week.

He challenged the warrant because police in Sweden no longer want him extradited over rape allegations.

However, a judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court said it remained valid because he had committed a separate offence by skipping bail in June 2012 – when he first took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

While the judge refused to cancel the warrant outright, she agreed to consider whether it is in the "public interest" to maintain it.

That ruling will be made on 13 February.

The judge, Emma Arbuthnot, said Assange must explain why he skipped bail – but he was not in court to do so and has not left the embassy for five and a half years for fear of arrest.

Image:Assange has been in the embassy in London for five and a half years

Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, replied they were "exceptional circumstances" in his client's case.

He told the court that Assange had health problems, including depression, and that his years inside the embassy were more than adequate punishment for his bail offence.

Assange – fearing extradition to the US – also had "reasonable grounds" to skip bail in 2012, Mr Summers added.

The 46-year-old sought asylum in the embassy because he feared Swedish police would eventually send him to the US over WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of secret military documents in 2010.

The site released confidential information on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, provoking fury among US intelligence and defence chiefs.

Assange's lawyers believe there is a secret US indictment that will end up with him in an American court.

Another of his legal representatives, Jennifer Robinson, told reporters that Assange would face the court if he received "an assurance that he will not be extradited to the United States to face prosecution".

The UK government has not confirmed whether an extradition request exists.

Swedish prosecutors stopped investigating the rape claims against Assange last year, saying all possible leads had been "exhausted".

In January, the Foreign Office also rejected Ecuador's request to grant him diplomatic status, which would have given Assange immunity from arrest.

The South American country has already given him citizenship.

For some, Assange is an activist who exposed government abuses of power and championed free speech.

More from Wikileaks

Others see him as a criminal who undermined the security of the West by exposing secrets.

Police called off round-the-clock watch outside the embassy in October 2015 but a plan to arrest him should he leave is still in place.

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