LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was denied bail, a UK court ruled Wednesday and he will remain in jail while US government lawyers attempt to secure his extradition from the UK.
The bail decision comes just days after the same judge found that Assange could not be legally extradited to the United States for espionage charges due to concerns about his mental health and the risk of suicide.
Assange’s lawyers alleged that if he continued to be separated from his partner and two young children, his mental health could be deteriorating, citing concerns about the scale of the coronavirus in UK prisons.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser dismissed the Assange attorneys’ arguments, saying his past conduct had shown Assange posed a flight risk.
“Mr Assange has not yet won this case … the outcome of this appeal is not yet known,” she said.
She added that Assange had incentives to “flee”, had violated bail in the past and showed a willingness to “disregard this court’s orders”.
He will now remain in a London jail pending appeal against the US Department of Justice’s extradition decision.
If the US appeal is ultimately successful and 49-year-old Assange is extradited, he faces a maximum of 175 years in prison, 18 charges of violating an espionage law and conspiracy to hack state computers.
WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables, often exposing critical reviews from world leaders including Saudi kings and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Among the files released by WikiLeaks in 2010 was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.
Assange has not been public since he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 because of extradition fears in the United States. He also tried to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex offense allegations, which ended in 2015.
Assange has been in a London prison since leaving the embassy in April 2019.
Supporters salute Assange as an anti-establishment hero who has fallen victim to what they call the abuse of US power in Afghanistan and Iraq, and see his prosecution as an attack on journalism and free speech.
However, critics viewed him as a dangerous personality who undermined security in the West and deny that he is a journalist.
District Judge Baraitser said in her ruling Monday that the WikiLeaks founder’s activities in 2010 – she received hundreds of thousands of classified files from U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning – went beyond investigative journalism.
Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, with whom he had two children when he lived in the Ecuadorian embassy, spoke in court following Wednesday’s ruling.
“This is a huge disappointment,” she said. “I urge the Justice Department to drop the charges and the President of the United States to apologize to Julian.”
Moris previously urged both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden to apologize to Assange, telling NBC News earlier this week that a pardon would save his life and “save the first change.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at a press conference on Monday that he would offer Assange political asylum.
A day later, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a 2 GB Sydney radio station that Assange would be “free to return to Australia” once the legal challenges against him ended.
Reuters contributed to this report.
IIf you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, mail HOME at 741741, or visit www.speakingofsuicide.com for additional resources.