London court denies bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange must remain in custody in the UK, while the US is appealing a court decision to block his extradition to get charges there for leaking secret documents, a judge in London ruled on Wednesday.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who on Monday refused to grant her extradition, told Westminster Magistrates Court that if released, there were “substantial reasons” to suspect Assange would “fail to give up” for future appeals.

“Mr Assange still has an incentive to refrain from these as yet unresolved proceedings,” she said.

“As a matter of justice, the United States must be able to question my decision. If Assange interrupts during this process, they will have lost the opportunity to do so.”

Outside court, attorney Stella Morris, Assange’s fiancée and mother of two of his children, called the decision “a huge disappointment” and urged the US Department of Justice to refrain from the allegations.

A US government lawyer previously urged Baraitser not to release the controversial Australian publisher and outlined how it planned to question her decision to block his extradition for mental health reasons.

“We respectfully claim on behalf of the United States that there are insurmountable obstacles to Assange being granted bail,” said Clair Dobbin.

She added that there were “no conditions that could guarantee his surrender” in the future.

“The history of his attempts to avoid extradition to the United States shows that he can go to great lengths to avoid this possibility,” Dobbin said.

The court “should not hesitate to avoid his resources” and pointed to offers of political asylum, especially from Mexico, she added.

Judge Baraitser has refused to grant Julian # Assange bail – despite acknowledging his extreme suffering in prison. Such is the queen of cruelty. But there is an informed hint from Washington that Biden cannot continue to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court, where Julian wins.

– John Pilger (@johnpilger) January 6, 2021

‘Motives to avoid’

Assange attended court with a suit and mask over his mouth, two days after the unexpected decision to deny his removal to the United States on the grounds that the risk of his suicide there was too great.

Edward Fitzgerald, his lawyer, argued that he should be released after spending 15 months in custody pending extradition.

Baraitser’s decision on Monday “really changes all motives to avoid,” he added. “The court has made a decision and the decision has been that he should be released.”

Assange is wanted in Washington for facing 18 charges related to WikiLeak’s release of 500,000 secret files describing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United States claims that he helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal the 2010 documents before revealing confidential sources around the world.

He faces a possible 175-year sentence if convicted, but Assange and his lawyers have long argued that the case against him is politically motivated.

He has been held in Belmarsh Prison with high security in south-east London.

An earlier request for bail in March on the grounds that he was exposed to Covid-19 behind bars and was rejected.

Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012, after Sweden issued an arrest warrant in connection with allegations of sexual abuse.

He spent seven years on the South American country’s London mission until the Quito government revoked its citizenship.

British police pulled him out and arrested him in 2019.

He was then sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for violating his bail in connection with the Swedish case, which was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

The UN called the sentence “disproportionate”.

>> Assange’s extradition trial a test for press freedom, rights groups say

‘Unnecessarily cruel’

Assange’s long-running legal misery has become a known cause of media freedom, even though the judge who heard the case said he had a case to answer.

Baraitser said on Monday that he would have been “well aware” of the effects of leaking secret documents, and his actions went “far beyond” the role of a journalist.

But she said extradition would be “oppressive” because his mental health would probably deteriorate in the US penal system, “which would cause him to commit suicide.”

She rejected the testimony of US experts that Assange was to be protected from self-harm and noted that others such as the disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein had managed to kill themselves in custody despite supervision.

UN torture spokesman Nils Melzer applauded the decision to block his extradition, saying he should be released and compensated for his trial, which involved arbitrary detention.

But he said Baraitser had in fact confirmed the rationale behind the US case, which “actually corresponds to the criminalization of national security journalism”.

The United States has called the verdict “extremely disappointing” and has faced calls from WikiLeaks, as well as groups for rights and media freedom to abstain from the appeal.

The media defender group Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday’s denial of bail was “unnecessarily cruel”.

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson outspokenly called on US President Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden to forgive Assange, while expressing confidence “justice will prevail”.