WikiLeaks' Assange asks UK court to lift arrest warrant

2018-01-26 20:21 - Jeremy Hodges and Kaye Wiggins, Bloomberg
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks as he leaves Britain's High Court in London. (Peter Macdiarmid, AP, file)

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London - After more than five years in Ecuador’s embassy in London, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange is asking a UK court to lift his arrest warrant.

A London judge will have to decide whether the warrant - issued in 2012 - is still valid. If the judge rules in his favour he could be walk free from his self-imposed refuge. The judge won’t make a decision on Friday and another hearing was scheduled for February 6.

The 46-year-old has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since evading deportation in a Swedish sexual assault probe.

Given the Swedish "proceedings have come to an end and the kind of warrant it is, the argument is it has no status because it’s attached to ongoing proceedings," Gareth Pierce, Assange’s lawyer, told journalists before the start of court Friday.

Assange and WikiLeaks have become famous over the past decade for disclosing confidential documents about the US government and politics. In 2016, WikiLeaks injected itself into the middle of the US presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Aaron Watkins, a lawyer for the UK Crown Prosecution Service ridiculed Assange’s position as “absurd.”

His argument would give a criminal “effective immunity from being dealt with” because of “having managed to evade proceedings sufficiently long that they fell away.”

In a setback to Assange, Judge Emma Arbuthnot said no medical arguments would be considered in the case.

There have been media reports that the Australian’s health has severely deteriorated. Ecuador granted Assange citizenship earlier this month after failed attempts at diplomacy with British officials.

Assange is asking the court to lift the warrant about eight months after Swedish prosecutors dropped the underlying rape probe, saying that his steps to evade questioning made it impossible to pursue the case.

Assange walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, after exhausting options in UK courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he would be extradited to the US.

London police say that warrant is still in force unless lifted by a court.

“Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court” in 2012, the police said in an emailed statement. “The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” 

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