Julian Assange has been refused bail by a British judge just two days after she had blocked his extradition to the United States, where he faces charges of espionage and hacking — the judge said Assange “still has an incentive to abscond from these, as yet unresolved, proceedings” and that there is reason to believe he may not surrender to court to face further proceedings if summoned.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who blocked Assange’s extradition to the U.S. Monday on account of his mental health and likelihood of attempting suicide if held in an American prison, told London’s Westminster Magistrates Court that the U.S. had a right to challenge her decision.
“If Mr Assange absconds during this process then they will have lost the opportunity to do so,” Baraitser said, pointing to his history of “attempts to evade extradition to the United States” in the past, which has included a seven-year stint in Ecuador’s London embassy, where he sought asylum.
Clair Dobbin, a lawyer representing the U.S., said the court “should be under no doubt about his resources to abscond,” pointing to an offer of political asylum from Mexico following the extradition hearing Monday and Assange’s previous failure to comply with bail conditions.
“This court should be under no illusion either as to the readiness of other states to offer Mr Assange protection,” Dobbin said, adding that the extradition request had been denied solely on the grounds of his mental health.
Assange’s lawyer and partner both called on the court to release Assange, who has been held in the high-security Belmarsh prison for over a year awaiting the extradition hearing.
Assange is wanted in the U.S. for his role in releasing a huge trove of confidential and sensitive information in 2010, one of the largest leaks in U.S. history, including hundreds of thousands of secret military documents relating to Afghanistan and Iraq and many diplomatic cables. He faces 18 charges of espionage and hacking, including allegations he worked with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Assange and his lawyers argue that the U.S.’ action against is politically motivated as WikiLeaks published U.S. government documents revealing evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses. The public speech figurehead has been trapped in the U.K. for nearly ten years. In 2011, a court ordered his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape, a ruling upheld by the U.K.’s Supreme Court in 2012. However, authorities were unable to extradite Assange as he had taken refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy. Eventually, relations between Assange and Ecuador’s leadership soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in 2019 by British authorities who took him into custody. There he awaited Monday’s extradition hearing, where Baraitser blocked the American request. Though she said Assange’s conduct went beyond that of a journalist, she could not sanction his extradition on health grounds. Baraitser expressed concern about the toll imprisonment in the U.S. would take on Assange’s mental health, believing he would be at risk of suicide if held in a U.S. prison.
“As far as Mr Assange is concerned this case has not yet been won … the outcome of this appeal is not yet known,” Baraitser said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The U.S. is appealing the extradition block, with Dobbin stressing that it had been denied only on grounds of mental health. “It is a decision that hangs on a single thread,” she said. WikiLeaks has said it intends to appeal the bail refusal.
175. If convicted, this is how many years Assange potentially faces in jail in the U.S..
I am a London-based reporter for Forbes covering breaking news. Previously, I have worked as a reporter for a specialist legal publication covering big data and as a freelance journalist and policy analyst covering science, tech and health. I have a master’s degree in Biological Natural Sciences and a master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. Follow me on Twitter @theroberthart or email me at email@example.com
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