Judge to rule on bid to scrap Assange arrest warrant

Associated Press

London – A British judge says she will rule next month on whether to scrap a U.K. arrest warrant for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a move that would free him to leave the Ecuadorean embassy after more than five years.

Assange’s lawyers went to court Friday to argue that the warrant serves no purpose because he is no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged sex offenses.

Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy since he took refuge there in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. Swedish prosecutors were investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women in 2010.

But prosecutors dropped the case last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden in the foreseeable future.

Assange still faces arrest if he leaves the embassy – for jumping bail in 2012.

Lawyer Mark Summers told Westminster Magistrates’ Court that the arrest warrant had “lost its purpose and its function.”

Assange’s attorney’s also said in court papers that five years in conditions “akin to imprisonment, without access to adequate medical care or sunlight” had left his mental and physical health “in serious peril.”

Judge Emma Arbuthnot said that evidence presented to the court said Assange’s health issues included “a terrible bad tooth, frozen shoulder and depression.”

British prosecutors are opposing the removal of the warrant, saying Assange shouldn’t be immune from the law simply because he has managed to evade justice for a long time.

The judge said she would deliver her ruling on Feb. 6.

If she rules in Assange’s favor he will be free to leave the embassy without being arrested on the British warrant.

But Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified American documents, and that the U.S. authorities will seek his extradition.

Earlier this month Ecuador said it had granted the Australian-born hacker citizenship, as it tried to unblock the stalemate that has kept Assange as its houseguest for five-and-a-half years.

It also asked Britain to grant him diplomatic status. Britain refused, saying “the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”