A British judge has upheld an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been evading the law by hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy for nearly six years.
Mr Assange’s lawyers had argued that a warrant issued for his arrest for jumping bail in 2012 should be quashed but this case was rejected by judge Emma Arbuthnot.
The WikiLeaks chief sought refuge in the embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he would face charges of sexual assault and rape. Mr Assange denies the allegations.
However, after the investigation in Sweden was dropped, Mr Assange’s lawyers had asked for the warrant to be withdrawn last week as he was no longer wanted in Sweden. After this request was rejected, his lawyers argued that his arrest was not in the public interest.
Mark Summers QC, who represents Mr Assange, an Australian national, argued the fact he had been stuck in the embassy for so long had been “adequate, if not severe” punishment enough and pointed to a report by a UN group which said that his situation was “arbitrary, unreasonable, unnecessary, and disproportionate".
However, the judge said she had not been persuaded by the arguments made on Mr Assange’s behalf.
“I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years,” she said. “Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do so too.”
Judge Arbuthnot dismissed all the other arguments made by Mr Assange’s lawyers, including that he feared being extradited from Sweden to the US and that conditions in the embassy were similar to a prison.
The judge said that she did not think that the 46-year-old's fears of US extradition were “reasonable”, adding that he could receive visitors when he liked and had access the balcony.
Mr Assange “is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice”, she concluded.
She added: “He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favour.”
Mr Assange's representatives have always maintained that a secret US indictment for his arrest exists and have sought guarantees from the UK government that he will not be extradited to the US if he leaves the embassy.