Eoin Stynes reports on the latest development in the scandal-embroiled story of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
A British Court has refused a request by Julian Assange and his legal team to drop an arrest warrant which was brought against him for breaching his bail conditions in the UK. As a result Assange is facing an extended period of exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
The refusal to drop the charges against the founder of Wikileaks came on February 6 during a packed hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot regarded Assange’s failure to “surrender for extradition to Sweden” — to face an investigation in to allegations of sexual assault and rape against him — a crime in itself.
“If a person who is on bail fails without reasonable cause to surrender he shall be guilty of an offence”.
Arbuthnot further explained that “1. Mr Assange has been released on bail, 2. He has failed to surrender and 3. If he has no reasonable cause he will be guilty of an offence”.
Assange, 46, did not appear in court to face this verdict as he is still in exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy where he has been in hiding since 29 June 2012. He has remained in the embassy due to fears that he may be arrested and extradited to the US due to his work with Wikileaks.
However, on hearing the verdict, Assange and his legal team launched another attempt to have the warrant quashed on public interest and medical grounds for the coming week. This next sitting may see Assange attempt to appear in court as Arbuthnot outlined that she cannot make a decision to nullify the warrant if the Wikileaks founder is not present: “Once at court, the defendant would be given the opportunity to explain his failure to surrender and that is when Mr Assange would be able to place before the court his reasonable cause for failing to do so.”
Arbuthnot concluded her judgement: “Having considered the arguments set out above (and by agreement at this stage not having considered the public interest arguments raised by Mr Summers) I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn.”
Judge Arbuthnot will make her decision — after considering the arguments of public interest — on February 13.
Assange’s request comes in the wake of a decision by Swedish Authorities to drop an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and rape against him — accusations which he strongly denies. Swedish Authorities dropped this investigation in May 2016.
Marianne Ny, Sweden’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “the decision to discontinue the investigation is not because we’ve been able to make a full assessment of the evidence, but because we didn’t see possibilities to advance the investigation”. Outlining that no verdict on Assange’s guilt or innocence could be made in his absence.