Wikileaks founder Julian Assange still faces arrest if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy in London after a court ruled that the arrest warrant against him was still valid. Assange, 46, applied to have the warrant for skipping bail quashed, which would free him to leave the embassy, where he has hidden since June 2012, without fear of arrest. Though Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation against him, he faces arrest if he leaves the building in Knightsbridge, London, for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK.
Last month Mark Summers QC, representing Assange, told the senior district judge, Emma Arbuthnot, that since the Swedish case had been dropped the warrant had “lost its purpose and its function”. He said because Swedish extradition proceedings against Assange had come to an end, so had the life of the arrest warrant.
The defense papers stated: “He [Assange] has spent five and a half years in conditions which, on any view, are akin to imprisonment, without access to adequate medical care or sunlight, in circumstances where his physical and psychological health have deteriorated and are in serious peril.”
Arbuthnot said evidence handed to the court concerning Assange’s medical problems included “a terrible bad tooth, frozen shoulder and depression”.
But Aaron Watkins, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, said Assange’s argument for having the warrant dropped was “strange and untenable”.
“Assange had been released on bail in proceedings; he was under a duty to surrender to the custody of the court and he failed to surrender at the appointed time for him to do so. Therefore a warrant stands,” Watkins said.
Assange remains concerned that he faces a secret US indictment on charges related to WikiLeaks’ disclosure of leaked classified US documents.
WikiLeaks said on Tuesday that Assange could face life in prison in the US for a variety of charges including espionage, conspiracy and theft.
The group says US grand jury proceedings against Assange began as early as 2010, but it is not publicly known if he faces a US indictment because of the strict secrecy rules governing US grand jury actions.
Several prominent US officials have expressed an interest in prosecuting Assange, and there has been a US investigation into WikiLeaks’ activities.
British officials would be expected to take Assange into custody if there was a US indictment and extradition request.
Ecuador recently granted him citizenship and asylum in an attempt to resolve the political impasse over his continued presence in the UK. It had tried unsuccessfully to persuade British officials to give Assange diplomatic status, which might have made it possible for him to leave Britain even if he was sought by US officials.
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h/t: The Guardian