Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England.
Jack Taylor | Getty Images
LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail by a London judge who said there was a risk he may flee justice while the U.S. tries again to secure his extradition.
The 49-year-old Australian asked to be set free after a ruling on Monday said that he cannot be extradited. U.S. authorities want to charge him with espionage after he published hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011.
“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,” Judge Vanessa Baraitser said, according to Reuters.
The U.S. Department of Justice has appealed Monday’s extradition ruling and says it will continue to seek Assange’s extradition to face 18 criminal charges of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers.
“As far as Mr Assange is concerned this case has not yet been won … the outcome of this appeal is not yet known,” said Baraitser.
Assange has spent the last eight years either hauled up in the Ecuadorian embassy or locked up in Belmarsh prison in southeast London.
Baraitser said Monday that extradition would be oppressive due to Assange’s mental health and warned that he could commit suicide.
“The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future,” Baraitser wrote in her ruling. “For all of these reasons I find that Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.”
Fans respect Assange for exposing what they describe as abuses of power by the U.S. But opponents believe he has undermined the security of the West, and dispute that he is a journalist.
Assange found himself in the spotlight at the start of 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad including two journalists who worked for Reuters.
Clair Dobbin, a lawyer representing the U.S. at the hearing, said Assange had gone to great lengths to avoid extradition and that he could try to leave the U.K. to flee justice if he was released on bail.
“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, according to Reuters. “This court should be under no illusion either as to the readiness of other states to offer Mr Assange protection.”
Dobbin added that the extradition request had been denied “on a single ground, that of his mental health. It is a decision that hangs on a single thread.”
Stella Morris, Assange’s fiancée, called on the U.S. to drop the case against Assange.
“This is a huge disappointment,” she told reporters outside court. “Julian should not be in Belmarsh Prison in the first place. I urge the Department of Justice to drop the charges and the President of the United States to pardon Julian.”