WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange denied bail, U.K. court rules

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LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail, a U.K. court ruled on Wednesday, and will remain in prison while lawyers for the U.S. government appeal a decision blocking his extradition.

The ruling comes just days after the same judge said that Assange could not be legally extradited to the United States to face espionage charges due to concerns about his mental health and the risk of suicide.

At Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange remained a flight risk.He will remain incarcerated in a London prison during the appeal of the extradition decision by the U.S. Justice Department.

“As far as Mr. Assange is concerned this case has not yet been won,” said Judge Baraitser. Adding that Assange had incentives “to abscond,” had breached bail in the past and demonstrated a willingness to “flout the orders of this court.”

If the U.S. appeal is ultimately successful and Assange, 49, is extradited, he could face a maximum of 175 years in prison there, on 18 charges of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers.

WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often critical appraisals of world leaders, including Saudi royals and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among the files published in 2010 by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad, which killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.

Assange has not been out in public since he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 over U.S. extradition fears. He also sought to avoid extradition to Sweden for sex offense allegations, which were subsequently dropped in 2015.

Assange has been in a London prison since his ejection from the embassy in April 2019.

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Supporters hail Assange as an anti-establishment hero, victimized for exposing what they describe as U.S. abuses of power in Afghanistan and Iraq, and see his prosecution as an assault on journalism and free speech.

But detractors cast him as a dangerous figure who has undermined security in the West, and dispute that he is a journalist.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said in her Monday decision that the WikiLeaks founder’s activity in 2010 — receiving hundreds of thousands of classified files from U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning — went beyond investigative journalism.

Belmarsh Prison where Julian Assange has been held in London, England.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at a press conference on Monday that he would offer political asylum to Assange. A day later, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a Sydney radio station 2GB that Assange was “free to return home” to Australia, once legal challenges against him were over.

Reuters contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit www.speakingofsuicide.com for additional resources.





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