WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail by a UK courts as he fights to avoid extradition to the US to face charges over leaking secret documents.
The Australian will remain in custody after the judge said there was substantial reason to believe he might abscond before the next stage of legal proceedings if he were bailed.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser told Westminster Magistrates’ Court: “I am satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that if Mr Assange is released today he will fail to surrender to the court to face the appellant proceedings.
“Mr Assange still has an incentive to abscond from these as yet unresolved proceedings.”
The London court ruled this week that the 49-year-old will not be extradited to the United States after a judge found his mental health was so fragile he was likely to kill himself if he is sent overseas to face espionage charges.
The US immediately confirmed they will appeal this decision, in a last-ditch attempt to force Mr Assange to face the US justice system on espionage charges, calling the ruling “extremely disappointing”.
Mr Assange’s lawyers have rejected Scott Morrison’s claim he can simply return to Australia if this final legal attempt to extradite him fails, warning that the US could promptly launch new legal proceedings to extradite him from the country of his birth.
That would leave him again facing charges that carry a maximum penalty of up to 175 years in jail.
Judge Baraitser said that as “a matter of fairness” the US must be able to challenge her decision.
Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the US government in Washington, told the court there were “no conditions that could guarantee his surrender” if he were freed from custody.
“The history of his attempts to evade extradition to the United States demonstrated that he is capable of going to any length to avoid that possibility,” she added.
Ms Dobbin said the court “should be under no doubt about his resources to abscond”, pointing to his previous flouting of bail conditions, and an offer of political asylum, notably from Mexico.
But Mr Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said he should be freed, after spending 15 months in custody awaiting the extradition proceedings.
“We say after all this time, after the long proceedings over a year… the court has given a decision and the decision has been that he should be discharged,” he added.
SUPPORTER DETAINED IN PROTEST OUTSIDE COURT
An Assange supporter was handcuffed by police outside the London court on Wednesday as protesters gathered to call for his release.
His fiancee Stella Moris was also at Wednesday’s bail hearing, hoping Mr Assange would be freed to be with her and their children.
On Monday, supporters cheered and hugged each other after the ruling against his extradition. Ms Moris burst into tears and hugged WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson.
Her partner has become a symbol of the fight for freedom of the press in some quarters, but Ms Baraitser said in Monday’s ruling that the WikiLeaks founder’s actions went “well beyond” the role of a journalist.
However, she said that extradition would be “oppressive” and that his mental health could deteriorate in the US prison system, and there was a risk of suicide.
In September, a British Court heard Mr Assange was preparing to take his own life, in expert evidence provided by a leading psychiatrist.
She rejected US expert testimony that Mr Assange would be protected from self-harm, citing the case of US financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in custody despite supervision while awaiting trial on trafficking charges.
Scott Morrison claimed on Tuesday that the Australian could simply return home “like any other Australian” if that US appeal over the decision fails.
“Well, the justice system is making its way and we’re not a party to that,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“And like any Australian, they’re offered consular support and should, you know, if the appeal fails, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian. So that consular support continues to be offered and that’s the situation as we understand it right now.”
But lawyers for Mr Assange told news.com.au that Australia should push for the US to drop the case entirely.
Barrister Jennifer Robinson told news/com.au that the Australian government should “be making representations to the US to close this case down altogether, given the judge’s ruling on his health and the grave freedom of speech implications, to ensure Mr Assange can safely return home.”