At 2pm on Tuesday 13 February at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot is due to rule on whether Britain’s determination to arrest WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is really in the public interest. Assange risks arrest by UK police if he leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living since seeking asylum there in 2012.
The arrest warrant is connected to Sweden’s 2010 investigation and was upheld in court last week despite the underlying Swedish investigation having been closed last year. In that hearing, Assange’s defence had argued that because Sweden dropped its investigation and European arrest warrants have been withdrawn, the UK warrant “lost its purpose and its function.”
In the past year, a series of Freedom of Information requests have led to the publication of emails that raise important questions about Britain’s role in the affair. Correspondence – records of which have been deleted on the UK side – appear to show officials encouraging their Swedish counterparts to artificially prolong their investigation.
When did Assange enter the embassy, and why is he there?
Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19, 2012 and applied for political asylum, seeking protection from US attempts to imprison him over his work as the publisher of WikiLeaks. He was granted political asylum two months later after the UK and Sweden refused to give an assurance they would not extradite him to the US over WikiLeaks publications. Ecuador more recently granted Assange with Ecuadorian nationality. The United States has had an ongoing, “multi-subject” investigation into WikiLeaks and Julian Assange over their work publishing classified documents since 2010.
What is happening on 13 February?
Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, is due to rule on whether the existing UK arrest warrant and a potential future charge of absconding under sections 6 and 7 of the 1976 Bail Act are proportionate and whether it would be in the public interest for the current situation to continue.
Why is this hearing important?
The current proceedings are important because of the focus they put on the actions of the United Kingdom in this affair. The UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has received an extradition request from the United States, but some of its actions seem difficult to explain on the basis of the closed Swedish investigation alone.
Recently published emails obtained under Freedom of Information legislation in the UK and Sweden show that Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service told Sweden to not interview Julian Assange in the UK in 2011 and 2012 (they eventually did so in 2016). The UK also told Sweden not to drop its extradition request when it moved to do so in 2013.
The UK remains in violation of a United Nations ruling from 2016 that Julian Assange is being subjected to Arbitrary Detention. The UK government refuses to release most of its internal communications relating to Assange saying that to do so would compromise the United Kingdom’s national security and diplomatic relations.
How is Julian Assange after having been in the embassy for five and a half years?
There have long been concerns about Julian Assange’s abilty to access adequate medical care. Doctors who have recently carried out a full examination have stated that Assange’s health is in an increasingly dangerous condition.
Why does Julian Assange fear prosecution from the United States?
A US grand jury investigation has been ongoing since May 2010 with the purpose of bringing a case against Assange over WikiLeaks publications. Efforts to extradite and charge Assange have expanded under the Trump administration to include WikiLeaks’ groundbreaking series on the CIA published last year. Assange faces up to life imprisonment for multiple charges including espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy, theft, and electronic espionage–a terrorism offence.
President Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo stated that Assange has “no First Amendment rights” and that the CIA is working to “take down” WikiLeaks. The US Senate intelligence committee has tabled legislation to declare WikiLeaks a “non-state intelligence service” and that the US government should “treat it accordingly.” Assange published two responses in the Washington Post.