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Assange to be held at Covid-hit Belmarsh after judge denies bail

by Bethany Rielly
News Reporter

JULIAN ASSANGE could be held at Covid-hit Belmarsh prison for months to come after he was denied bail today. 

The “illogical” decision by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser comes days after she blocked the Wikileaks founder’s extradition to the United States on grounds that he would be at risk of taking his own life if held in isolation. 

The judge rejected bail over fears that Mr Assange could abscond while waiting for the US to launch its appeal.

Outside Westminster magistrates’ court in central London, Mr Assange’s partner Stella Moris said the decision was a “huge disappointment.” 

“I urge the [US] Department of Justice to drop the charges and the president of the US to pardon Julian,” said Ms Moris, who has two young children with Mr Assange. 

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said that the rejection of bail would be appealed in the High Court shortly.

“We think it is unjust and unfair, and illogical when you consider [the judge’s] ruling two days ago about Julian’s health, which of course is caused in large part because he is being held in Belmarsh prison,” he said.

Mr Assange has already spent the past 18 months at the high-security prison in south-east London after he was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had sought asylum for seven years.

He now faces the prospect of remaining in the prison until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take months. 

Reporters Without Borders director of international campaigns Rebecca Vincent described the judge’s decision to refuse bail as “unnecessarily cruel.” 

This is the third time that the judge has denied Mr Assange bail. 

Announcing her decision at the magistrates’ court, the judge claimed that Mr Assange had a “huge support network” to help him if he chose to abscond.

Making the bail application, Mr Assange’s lawyers said that he wished only for a “sheltered life” with his family. He would be under house arrest and wear an ankle tag, they said. 

His lawyers also raised concerns about the risks to his physical and mental health at Belmarsh, noting that there has been a severe outbreak of Covid-19 in the block where the 49-year-old is being held. 

The US case against Mr Assange centres on Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011 on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Prosecutors claim that he assisted US defence analyst Chelsea Manning in cracking an encrypted password on US computers, was complicit in hacking by others and published material that endangered the lives of informants, all of which Mr Assange has denied. 

The Wikileaks legal team argued that the case was politically motivated, owing to the exposure of cables containing evidence of war crimes.

On Monday the judge rejected this defence and another made on the grounds of protecting freedom of speech, as she spared Mr Assange extradition to the US only on health grounds. 

Ms Vincent told the Morning Star that the verdict is likely to contribute to the “chilling effect” on national-security journalism already caused by Mr Assange’s 10-year ordeal.

“What we would have liked to see from the court is a stronger indication that there will be protections for journalists and press freedom for such cases in the future, but that was not the case — far from it,” she said. 

“The precedent is that similar cases could be successfully pursued against others unless something changes, and that’s really concerning.”

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