Julian Assange has failed to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to get out of prison – after a judge ruled that his previous antics made him a flight risk.
The former WikiLeaker-in-chief made a legal bid to be released on bail from HM Prison Belmarsh in southeast London because, he said, he was at increased risk from the virus currently tearing through the UK.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled this afternoon that he would not be released, even temporarily. Baraitser is presiding over Assange's wider attempts to avoid extradition to the US over allegations that he helped ex-US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning hack various US government agencies as well as committing espionage on the US.
"As matters stand today this global pandemic doesn't, of itself, provide grounds for Mr Assange's release," she said, as reported by the London Evening Standard. "His past conduct shows the lengths he is prepared to go in order to avoid extradition."
Edward Fitzgerald QC, Assange's lawyer, who previously represented accused hacker Lauri Love to prevent him from being extradited to the US, told the court today: "Belmarsh went into lockdown yesterday afternoon, with no association save for one half-an-hour of exercise with 40 people in the yard, which is obviously highly dangerous for someone who is susceptible."
Infamously, Assange fled into hiding in Ecuador's London embassy while out on bail. His celebrity mates had posted a £200,000 bond as surety, assuring the High Court that Jules wouldn't flee from an EU Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden. Local prosecutors wanted to charge him with sexual assault. Claiming the EAW was a front to have him extradited to a possible death sentence in America, the WikiLeaker moved into the Ecuadorean embassy in mid-2012, costing his chums £93,500 as he did so.
A change in Ecuador's government and, allegedly, Jules' behaviour during his self-imposed sentence, saw him dragged out in April 2019. Westminster Magistrates' Court then jailed him for 50 weeks for jumping bail all those years ago, and has kept him remanded in Belmarsh as a flight risk after that sentence ended and US prosecutors opened their legal extradition attempt.
People with loose connections to the medical profession have previously written open letters claiming all kinds of medical mistreatment directed at Assange has been happening in Belmarsh, which, while not a pleasant place, has its own UK-standard prison medical facilities. Perhaps they're now wondering if they should have kept their mouths shut before a real situation of medical concern reared its head. ®