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U.K. Judge Rejects Julian Assange's Bail Request, Citing Flight Risk

A Julian Assange supporter holds up a placard of the WikiLeaks founder outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the site of his bail hearing, in London on Wednesday.
A Julian Assange supporter holds up a placard of the WikiLeaks founder outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the site of his bail hearing, in London on Wednesday.

Updated at 8:20 a.m. ET

Julian Assange will remain in a British prison after a U.K. court denied his request to go free on bail Wednesday, citing the U.S. government's ongoing attempts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to face espionage charges.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser — who gave Assange a court victory earlier this week by rejecting the U.S. extradition request — ruled that Assange must be held in custody while the U.S. government appeals, saying he poses a flight risk.

Assange will remain in Belmarsh prison in south-east London, where he has been held since the spring of 2019. He was arrested after spending seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

"It is extremely disappointing that even though the request for Mr. Assange's extradition to the United States has been denied, he will continue to be held in a maximum security prison in London, under lockdown during a pandemic," Assange's attorney Barry Pollack said after the ruling. He added, "We look forward to the day that he can be reunited with his family."

Baraitser denied Assange's application for bail days after she ruled that because of Assange's mental health and the risk of suicide, "it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America."

In court Wednesday, Baraitser said that Assange's mental health condition is being sufficiently managed by prison officials and staff, contrary to the views of Assange's legal team and supporters.

Assange has now been fighting extradition for the better part of a decade, initially avoiding being sent to Sweden to face a criminal inquiry there, and then eluding U.S. attempts to haul him into federal court to face a raft of charges related to the publication of sensitive diplomatic cables and secret military records from the Iran and Afghanistan conflicts.

In court Wednesday, lawyers representing the U.S. said that if Assange goes free on bail, at least one other country has already offered him political asylum. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made the offer earlier this week, saying, "Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favor of pardoning him."

Assange's legal team insists he does not represent a flight risk, noting the protections of the British legal system as well as the looming change in U.S. leadership, as The Associated Press reports. It's not yet known, his attorneys said, whether a Biden administration would pursue Assange's extradition. His attorneys also say Assange has personal reasons to stay put, citing his relationship with his partner, Stella Morris, and their two children.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.