By Oscar Grenfell
14 September 2019
In a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court yesterday morning, British District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange will remain in prison, despite the fact that his custodial sentence for “absconding” bail expires on September 22.
The ruling is the latest in a series of attacks on Assange’s legal and democratic rights by the British judiciary. It means that the publisher and journalist will be detained until court proceedings next February for his extradition to the US, where he faces 175 years imprisonment for exposing American war crimes.
Given that the extradition proceedings will likely involve a protracted legal battle, Baraitser’s decision potentially confines Assange to the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison for years to come.
The court case was widely presented in the corporate media as a bail hearing for Assange. A statement posted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account this morning rejected these claims, explaining: “This morning’s hearing was not a bail hearing, it was a technical hearing. Despite this, the magistrate preemptively refused bail before the defence requested it.”
WikiLeaks stated: “Magistrate says Assange to remain in prison indefinitely. He has been in increasing forms of deprivation of liberty since his arrest 9 years ago, one week after he started publishing Cablegate.” “Cablegate” refers to WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, exposing the sordid intrigues of the American government and its allies around the world.
In remarks directed at Assange, Baraitser reportedly stated: “You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. When that happens your remand status changes from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.”
She continued: “Therefore I have given your lawyer an opportunity to make an application for bail on your behalf and she has declined to do so. Perhaps not surprisingly in light of your history of absconding in these proceedings.” This claim, however, is contradicted by the WikiLeaks statement, accusing the judge of preempting any application for bail by Assange’s lawyers.
Baraitser declared: “In my view I have substantial ground for believing if I release you, you will abscond again.”
A further administrative hearing is scheduled for October 11, followed by a case management hearing on October 21.
Baraitser’s ruling was based on the fraudulent claim that Assange illegitimately “absconded” on bail in 2012. In reality, Assange exercised his right, protected under international law, to seek political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy. He did so after British courts ruled that he would be extradited to Sweden to “answer questions” over manufactured and politically motivated sexual misconduct allegations.
The British and Swedish authorities refused to explain why extradition was necessary for a “preliminary investigation” to proceed, or why Swedish prosecutors would not agree to Assange’s repeated offer to answer any questions from London. Assange was finally questioned by prosecutors in December 2016, after which they dropped their fraudulent “investigation” in April 2017.
The issue for Assange was that Swedish authorities refused to guarantee that they would not extradite him to the US if he was in their custody.