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WikiLeaks’ Assange denied bail by London court

LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was denied bail by a British judge who said he might flee justice while the United States tries again to secure his extradition for publishing troves of secret documents.

Assange had asked to be freed on bail after the judge ruled on Monday that he should not be extradited because he would be at risk of suicide. Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused that request, citing the seven years he spent holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London after an earlier flight from justice in 2012.

“I am satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that if Mr Assange is released today he would fail to surrender to court to face the appeal proceedings,” she told London’s Westminster Magistrates Court.

Baraitser said the United States, where Assange faces 18 criminal charges of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers, had to be allowed to challenge her decision to reject extradition.

That appeal could take months and Assange – who has been in prison since being dragged out of the embassy in 2019 –  could be embroiled in yet more legal wrangling.

Assange’s fiancee Stella Moris said the judge’s decision to deny him bail was a huge disappointment and urged the United States to pardon him. WikiLeaks said it would appeal against the denial of bail.

Clair Dobbin, a lawyer representing the United States at the hearing, said Assange had gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid extradition and that he could try to leave the United Kingdom to flee justice.

 “This court should be in no doubt as to Mr Assange’s resources, abilities and sheer wherewithal to arrange flight to another country,” Dobbin said. “This court should be under no illusion either as to the readiness of other states to offer Mr Assange protection.”

Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said it was not certain US President-elect Joe Biden would continue to pursue Assange’s extradition. Assange would have lived at a London address with an electronic tag if freed, his lawyer said.

Judge Baraitser said Assange had boasted of helping US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to flee justice. Dobbin said the United States would appeal the decision not to extradite Assange. She said his mental health issues were not as severe as his legal team had made out and that the ruling had set too high a bar, as no state could completely eradicate suicide risks.