Julian Assange arrest warrant still stands, court rules

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Julian Assange's lawyer says he is not hiding from justice

A UK warrant to arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still valid, a court has ruled.

The warrant was issued in 2012 after Mr Assange failed to answer bail over sex assault claims in Sweden, now dropped.

Lawyers for Mr Assange, who has been living in London's Ecuador embassy since then, argued the warrant had therefore "lost its purpose".

His lawyers went on to argue against it on other grounds and the court will rule on 13 February.

At Westminster Magistrates' Court, senior district judge and chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said, having considered the arguments, she was "not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn".

She told the court that not surrendering to bail was a stand-alone offence under the Bail Act and Mr Assange must explain why he had failed to do so.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

His lawyers went on to argue that his case should be discontinued on the grounds that his treatment was not proportionate in the interests of justice.

Mr Assange's lawyer Mark Summers QC said his client had "had reasonable grounds for the course that he took".

He said the UN had ruled that Mr Assange's situation at present was "arbitrary, unreasonable and disproportionate" and his conduct in failing to answer bail had not had "the usual consequence of paralysing the underlying legal proceedings".

Mr Summers said Mr Assange had "at all times" offered to cooperate with the Swedish investigation and the five and a half years he had spent in the embassy in London "may be thought to be adequate, if not severe punishment, for the actions that he took".

Mr Assange has long feared that, if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy and is arrested, he could then be extradited to the US to face prosecution for publishing classified information through Wikileaks.

After the hearing, his legal team said they would continue to seek assurances that the UK did not have a US extradition warrant and would let him leave the country freely and without interference.

Mr Assange later said in a tweet that he had received a package addressed to him at the embassy and containing "an unknown white powdery substance and a threat".

The Metropolitan Police confirmed specialist officers assessed a small package and it was deemed not to be suspicious.

Classified documents

Earlier this month the UK government refused to grant Mr Assange diplomatic status and called on him to leave the embassy and "face justice". It has refused to guarantee he will not be extradited to the US, which has said his arrest is "a priority".

Wikileaks, which was founded by Mr Assange in 2006, has been involved in several high-profile releases of classified US information.

It made headlines around the world in April 2010 when it released footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.

Mr Assange promoted and defended the video, as well as a massive release of classified US military documents relating to the Afghan and Iraq wars in July and October 2010.

The website continued to release new documents, including five million confidential emails from US-based intelligence company Stratfor.