LONDON — Julian Assange on Tuesday lost a second bid to quash a British arrest warrant, another setback for the WikiLeaks founder who has spent almost six years holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot denied a request by Assange’s lawyers to lift a British warrant that was issued after Assange skipped bail when Swedish authorities sought him for questioning about alleged sexual assaults.
The Swedish case was dropped last year, but the arrest warrant for skipping bail in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador’s embassy still holds, the judge ruled. Assange has strongly denied the accusations from Sweden.
In London’s Westminster Magistrates Court, Assange sought to have the British warrant lifted, saying it no longer served the public interest.
Assange’s lawyers argued that their client was justified in his actions because of fears that he would be extradited to the United States to face possible charges for his role in WikiLeaks’ dissemination of troves of highly classified U.S. documents.
They also said the last five years that Assange has spent holed up in the embassy amounted to “adequate, if not severe, punishment” for his actions in skipping bail.
But Arbuthnot was withering in her responses — both in writing and in her courtroom remarks.
“I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr. Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” the judge said.
“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” she said. “He should have the courage to do the same. It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed.”
Assange’s lawyers further claimed that in his confinement at Ecuador’s embassy, the 46-year-old suffers from medical ailments and lack of sunshine. The judge replied: “I do not accept there is no sunlight. There are a number of photographs of him on a balcony connected to the premises he inhabits. Mr. Assange’s health problems could be much worse.”
The judge’s decision came after Assange lost a separate legal challenge last week.
In that ruling, his lawyers argued that the arrest warrant should be dropped because it had “lost its purpose” after Sweden shelved its investigation into sexual assault allegations because it could not get access to him.
Even if the bail arrest warrant were lifted, it is unknown whether Assange would leave the embassy or where he would go. It is also unclear if he would immediately face extradition requests if he stepped foot outside the embassy, which is monitored by security cameras.
Assange has long argued that there is an effort underway in the United States to charge him for his role in the publication classified U.S. documents.
It is not publicly known whether there is a sealed indictment against Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act. The Justice Department has previously debated the case against him.
Media reports have suggested a sometimes strained relationship between Assange and his hosts. At one point, Ecuador severed Assange’s Internet connection over concerns that WikiLeaks was meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election after the anti-secrecy website published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee.
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