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Confinement by proxy: the UK continues arbitrary confinement of journalist as threats from US prosecution escalate

The battle for Julian Assange’s freedom continues as Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot has ruled the WikiLeaks publisher’s confinement has been proportionate and in the public interest. The judge’s defensive and harsh ruling comes a day after it was revealed that Swedish prosecutors attempted to close their investigation into Assange in 2013, but British prosecutors dissuaded them from doing so. The ruling is consistent with UK behavior in this highly politicised case, as the court refused to recognise both Assange’s precarious health situation and the strong and binding ruling from the UN, declaring his confinement arbitrary, maintaining the UK’s silence on the imminent threat of a US prosecution linked to his journalistic activities.

The UK has long declined to confirm or deny the existence of an extradition request. Today’s ruling continues that tradition, with Arbuthnot’s rather inconsistent ruling that she would unwilling to treat these fears seriously without Julian Assange putting himself at risk of them being realised.

Assange’s lawyer Gareth Peirce said: “If you’re baffled by this [ruling], it’s because it’s a legally baffling situation.”

Judge Arbuthnot dismissed the idea that Sweden would have extradited to the United States as unlikely because doing so would have caused an “international crisis.” It is unfortunate she did not reflect on the US government’s willingness to provoke precisely that kind of situation in comparable cases. In 2013, shortly after President Obama said he wasn’t considering grounding planes to apprehend Edward Snowden, the US did exactly that, forcing a plane carrying the Bolivian president to land while it was flying over Austria, on a hunch that Edward Snowden might be on board. In 2014 it was reported that the CIA had a rendition plane flying over Europe, on hand to transport Snowden to the US.