US authorities are pressing to extradite Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, with the British judge ruling that the WikiLeaks founder could be put on trial for espionage in the US.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot said in London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday that it was in the US’s “public interest” to try Assange for offences, which he denies.
Assange was arrested in 2012 on charges of alleged sexual misconduct in Sweden.
Judge Arbuthnot said the Swedish investigation was no longer a valid cause for his arrest.
She also rejected Assange’s argument that extradition could prevent him from fulfilling his duty as a journalist and freedom of speech activist.
“The prosecution case against Mr Assange is not in doubt,” she said.
“The Swedish authorities have informed the United Kingdom that the Department of Justice has indicated its intent to initiate a formal extradition request. The United Kingdom has legal obligations to comply with that request.”
He is wanted in the US on charges relating to his publishing activities at WikiLeaks.
A lawyer for the US government said in 2016 that Assange could face charges of treason. Assange’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, has repeatedly argued that the case against her client is “circumstantial and unclear” and has no evidence to support the accusations.
The 33-year-old Australian maintains he fears arrest and extradition to the US if he steps outside the London embassy in Regent’s Park.
In the US, officials have said they are seeking to extradite Assange on two counts of espionage and two counts of theft of government property – all relating to publishing classified materials.
He is accused of violating a 1917 Espionage Act but has always denied wrongdoing.
Before his arrest, Assange fled the US in 2012, initially claiming asylum at the embassy for fear of arrest. He has remained there ever since.
In 2012, Assange entered the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid arrest.
He has had discussions with senior diplomats and diplomats in London and the US to secure safe passage to Ecuador.
He remained inside the embassy and refused to leave for several months, fearing extradition, however, the Ecuadorian government eventually granted him political asylum in 2013.
He remains there in virtual seclusion, having gained political asylum which he has continually reiterated he won’t leave to the US.
He has remained relatively dormant while inside the embassy, which he has described as a “top-security concrete box”, but he also regularly sends messages through the encrypted messaging application Telegram.
Back in December, Ecuador gave Assange a bail bond of around £250,000.
The payment was made over the Christmas period in a bid to guarantee his return to court for a hearing after a new prosecutor had taken office.
Ecuador’s foreign minister said the government’s position had not changed since 2016, when it stated it wanted to avoid extradition to the US.
The UK has until April 2019 to decide whether it will extradite Assange, although he is unlikely to be extradited if the US does not request his extradition.