WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s hopes for freedom have been dashed after he was denied bail, days after he avoided being extradited to the United States.
District judge Vanessa Baraitser made the ruling at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, citing the US government’s appeal against a decision to block his extradition.
“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,” she said.
Baraitser added: “As a matter of fairness, the US must be allowed to challenge my decision and if Mr Assange absconds during this process they will lose the opportunity to do so.
“Mr Assange still has a huge support network available to him should he again choose to go to ground.”
Reacting to the decision Assange’s partner Stella Moris said: “This is a huge disappointment. 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.”
WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the decision to refuse Assange bail would be appealed against at the High Court, adding: “We expect this to be overturned, because frankly it doesn’t make any sense from any point of view.”
At the Old Bailey on Monday, judge Baraitser said that, due to his real risk of suicide, the 49-year-old should not be extradited by “reason of mental health”. But she rejected his legal team’s arguments that the prosecution was politically motivated or a threat to freedom of speech.
Assange is wanted to face an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.
The case followed WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.
Prosecutors say Assange helped US defence analyst Chelsea Manning breach the Espionage Act in unlawfully obtaining material, that he was complicit in hacking by others, and that he published classified information that put the lives of US informants in danger.
Assange denies plotting with Manning to crack an encrypted password on US Department of Defence computers and says there is no evidence that anyone’s safety was put at risk.
His lawyers had said he faced up to 175 years in jail if convicted, although the US government claimed the sentence was more likely to be between four and six years.
Assange has been held in high security Belmarsh prison since he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by police before being arrested for breaching his bail conditions in April 2019.
Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were eventually dropped.
The defence legal team argued that the US prosecution is political and said Assange, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, would be at high risk of suicide if he were extradited.