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British Judge Denies Bail to WikiLeaks’ Founder Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen during a hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Jan. 6, 2021, in this courtroom sketch.

A British judge has rejected a request to release WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange on bail, ordering him to remain incarcerated while British courts determine whether he should face espionage charges in the United States.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Wednesday that Assange could fail to appear in court if he is released and therefore must remain in a high-security prison while British courts consider a U.S. appeal of her decision not to extradite him.

The decision to deny bail to Assange came two days after Baraitser rebuffed an American request to extradite him to the U.S. to face spying charges over WikiLeaks’ disclosure of confidential military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. Baraitser’s extradition denial was based on concerns over Assange’s well-being, saying he was likely to commit suicide if held under harsh conditions in U.S. prisons.

Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said the decision to refuse extradition greatly reduces Assange’s motivation to escape. “Mr. Assange has every reason to stay in this jurisdiction where he has the protection of the rule of law and this court's decision,” he said.

Fitzgerald also said it is not known if the incoming Joe Biden administration will pursue the prosecution of Assange, initiated under President Donald Trump.

The U.S. has appealed the decision not to extradite the 49-year-old Australian, leaving it to Britain’s High Court to hear the case on a date that has yet to be determined.

Assange will remain in London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he has been detained since his April 2019 arrest for skipping bail seven years earlier in a separate court case.

The U.S. has indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks' disclosures. Assange could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison if convicted.

Assange’s attorneys say he was acting as a journalist and therefore is entitled to U.S. constitutional free speech protection for leaking documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq.