A British court has just ruled that the arrest warrant for Julian Assange, first issued when he skipped bail in June of 2012, is still valid. Assange will be arrested if he steps foot outside of the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he's claimed asylum ever since. Assange's lawyers will continue to argue other technical points about the case throughout the morning.
Lawyers for Assange had argued that since Sweden is no longer actively pursuing Assange, the warrant had "lost its purpose" and had "no status". But prosecutors in the UK were concerned about the precedent that it might set if someone skips bails and is let go simply because they hid long enough.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot of Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled Wednesday morning (early Tuesday afternoon, London time) that the warrant will stand and Assange will be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy.
"I'm not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn," Arbuthnot said, calling the situation "not uncommon".
Assange himself first announced the ruling on Twitter.
Judge has ruled against the first technical point the court now expected to hear & decide on the other points.https://t.co/WTUAhNEw5d
— Julian Assange ⌛ (@JulianAssange) February 6, 2018
Assange fled to the embassy after being accused of sexual assault by two women in Sweden. The WikiLeaks founder feared being extradited to Sweden because he was certain that he'd eventually be sent to the United States to stand trial over his publication of US military files leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010. The charges in Sweden were dropped on a technicality in May, but prosecutors there say they'd still like to talk with Assange if he ever leaves.
Officials in Ecuador have spent years trying to figure out how to get rid of Assange, with Ecuador's president Lenin Moreno recently calling the silver-haired troublemaker an "inherited problem" and "more than a nuisance". Moreno's right wing opponent in last year's presidential election promised to kick Assange out within 30 days if he were elected.
Ecuador even granted Assange citizenship in a failed bid to get him diplomatic immunity and out of the embassy without arrest. But the UK isn't recognising Assange as being a diplomat for anywhere.
"Unfortunately, things did not turn out as the foreign ministry planned and so the problem still exists," President Moreno said last month.
Assange's defenders call him a freedom fighter who's being persecuted for telling the truth. But American intelligence agencies insist Assange is acting as the agent of a foreign government, specifically Russia. And the average person isn't quite sure who to believe at this point.
Many people who initially thought that Assange was acting merely as a truth-telling journalist back in 2010 and 2011 may have changed their minds about Assange, wondering why he's palling around with authoritarian regimes. Assange has reportedly turned down massive amounts of leaked data from the Russian Foreign Ministry and has no clear ideology.
It was revealed only recently that the US president's son, Donald Trump Jr, and Assange communicated over private Twitter messages in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election. In the bizarre exchange, Assange encouraged the Trump clan not to concede the election even if he lost, and begged for Trump to persuade the Australian government to make Assange an ambassador to the US after it was clear that Donald Trump was going to become president. This kind of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing with the Trump regime has certainly caused liberal-minded folks to wonder about Assange's true motives.
WikiLeaks has also been incredibly sloppy with some of its releases in the past two years, unwittingly releasing the credit card information and social security numbers of innocent people.
Assange will remain the embassy for now. And it seems that with today's ruling, he won't be getting out any time soon.