Assange ‘Can Leave Whenever,’ Judge Says, Rejecting Bid to Nix Warrant

Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London on May 19, 2017. Sweden’s top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

(CN) – A week after upholding Julian Assange’s arrest warrant in London, the judge denied Tuesday that it is in the public interest to let the WikiLeaks founder go free.

In a 10-page judgment published after a hearing at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot tore into Assange, saying “he appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor.”

Arbuthnot sniped at Assange repeatedly in the ruling for not showing up himself at court to raise his arguments.

“The impression I have, and this may well be dispelled if and when Mr. Assange finally appears in court, is that he is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice,” she wrote.

If Assange leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been living in asylum for nearly six years, he faces immediate arrest by London police.

The WikiLeaks founder said Arbuthnot’s ruling came as a surprise. “The judge went outside what the parties presented in court,” he said in a statement. “This seems to have led to the significant factual errors in the judgment.”

Though Sweden revoked a European arrest warrant for Assange last year, the Westminster court issued the warrant at issue in 2012 when Assange ignored a notice to surrender for extradition.

Swedish authorities wanted the Aussie computer programmer to come in for questioning after two women accused him of sexual molestation and rape, but Assange argued that his arrest would quickly land him in the custody of the United States — which he says likely has a secret indictment against hi for his publication of classified materials via WikiLeaks

Expanding on one of the points of her ruling last week, Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot focused Tuesday on how Assange’s conduct undermines the administration of justice.

One consequence of Assange’s failure to appear, she wrote, “is the drain on resources that policing Mr Assange’s choice has caused.”

“I have regard too to the losses incurred by his sureties,” Arbuthnot added. “I must look at the impact on public confidence in the criminal justice system if Mr Assange is allowed to avoid a warrant for his arrest by staying out of reach of the police for years in conditions which are nothing like a prison. The failure to surrender was deliberate and occurred after the defendant had been able to challenge the original order all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Jennifer Robinson, center left, a lawyer representing Julian Assange, talks to the media outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court after Chief Judge Emma Arbuthnot upheld the arrest warrant against Assange on Feb. 6, 2018. (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

Mark Summers, an attorney from Matrix Chambers who is representing Assange on instructions from the boutique firm Birnberg Pierce & Partners, failed to sway Arbuthnot with the findings of a United Nations working group that called Assange’s detention arbitrary.

Mercilessly unraveling that 2016 report, Arbuthnot began by saying the working group has apparently misunderstood what occurred after Assange’s arrest.

While the group made much of Assange’s 550 days in house arrest before he took to the embassy, Arbuthnot noted that Assange himself proposed this term.

“Mr. Assange was staying in a country house, he had to be indoors at night and had to attend the police station to sign on daily,” she wrote. “I do not find those restrictions harsh and there was certainly no such suggestion during the currency of the extradition proceedings. The court (rightly as it turned out) had a fear Mr. Assange would not surrender himself to the court and to ensure his attendance the conditions suggested by his lawyers were put in place. If the court had not been able to grant him conditional bail, he would have been remanded in custody.”

As for Assange’s stay in the embassy, which the working group labeled as prolonging his deprivation of liberty, Arbuthnot noted the “distinction between being held in Wandsworth Prison and living in the embassy.”

“Firstly, he can leave the embassy whenever he wishes; secondly, he is free to receive, it would seem, an unlimited number of visitors and those visits are not supervised; thirdly, he can choose the food he eats, the time he sleeps and exercises,” she wrote. “He can sit on the balcony (I accept probably observed by the police and his supporters) to take the air. He is not locked in at night. Importantly for a man who spends a great deal of time on his computer, he is free to use multimedia, whether his computer or a mobile telephone, in a way that prisoners are not allowed to do. I suspect if one were to ask one of the men incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison whether conditions in the Ecuadorian Embassy were akin to a remand in custody, the prisoner would dispute the Working Group’s assertion.”

Giving little weight to the working group’s report, Arbuthnot said she does “not find that Mr. Assange’s stay in the Embassy is inappropriate, unjust, unpredictable, unreasonable, unnecessary.”

What Arbuthnot did find unreasonable were Assange’s fears regarding extradition to the United States, saying any move by Sweden to render the prisoner would have triggered “a diplomatic crisis.”

Further if the United States did request Assange’s extradition, Assange would have been able to raise any bars to such extradition before the London court, she added.

Assange, who was granted Ecuadorean citizenship in December 2017, has been living at the embassy since June 2012 when he dodged extradition by disguising himself as a motorcycle courier.

British police no longer guard the embassy 24 hours a day due to the cost, but authorities in London have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy.

Arbuthnot said Assange has no one but himself to blame for his prolonged detention.

“If Mr. Assange had gone back to Sweden when he should have done after he had exhausted the appeal processes in this country, the Swedish prosecutor would have questioned him, then either prosecuted him five years ago or discontinued the proceedings,” she wrote.

“Mr. Assange would have had the accusations resolved one way or another.”

Though she accepted that Assange is depressed and deprived of sunlight inside the embassy, the judge also noted that medical reports show Assange to be in “relatively good physical health.”

Supporters bearing “Free Assange” banners outside the court reportedly protested the judgment.

Assange, who tweeted during the hearing that it was “not looking good,” noted this afternoon that his team has three months to appeal Arbuthnot’s ruling.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it a “priority” last April to arrest Assange for his role at WikiLeaks, and Assange quoted the U.S. Department of Justice as “confirm[ing] to Reuters again yesterday that its case is ongoing.”

A recent investigation by an Italian reporter found that email exchanges between the Crown Prosecution Service and Swedish authorities related to Assange were deleted in 2014. A CPS spokesperson reportedly denied any legal implications for the data deletion, but added that “we have no way of knowing the content of e-mail accounts once they have been deleted.”

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