British judge to decide next month on Assange’s bid to drop arrest warrant

Reuters- A British judge will rule on Feb. 6 whether to drop an arrest warrant against Julian Assange that stems from his breach of bail conditions, as the WikiLeaks founder steps up efforts to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy after more than five years.

Assange, 46, has been holed up in the building since 2012 after skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden over an allegation of rape, which he denies.

Assange had feared Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of a large trove of classified military and diplomatic documents – one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.

In May last year, Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the allegation. But British police have insisted Assange will still be arrested for breaching bail conditions should he leave the embassy.

On Friday, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, told Westminster Magistrates’ Court during the first hearing regarding the case since 2012 that the withdrawal of the European Arrest Warrant means the bail arrest warrant no longer applied.

“We say it’s lost its purpose and its function,” he said.

When asked if a successful ruling could enable Assange to walk free, a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)said, “Hypothetically yes, that would be our interpretation.”

CPS lawyer Aaron Watkins told the court it would be “absurd” if a defendant were to effectively rewarded for managing to evade proceedings for sufficiently long that they fell away.

To some, Assange is a cyber hero who exposed government abuses of power. To others, he is a criminal who undermined the security of the West by exposing secrets.

British police have said the charge of skipping bail is a much less serious offence than rape, but he could still face up to a year in jail if convicted.

Ecuador said this month it had given citizenship to Assange, hours after the British government refused a request for him to be given diplomatic status, which could have given Assange immunity from arrest should he try to leave the embassy.