On Monday, we learned that a British judge ruled that Wikileaks founder and alleged espionage agent Julian Assange would not be allowed to be extradited to the United States to stand trial. That made it sound like Assange was free and clear so he could go about his business. But in the aftermath of the ruling, the story took another improbable turn. That same judge has denied Assange’s request to be released on bail, so he remains in prison for the time being. How much longer can this passion play possibly go on? At least for a little while, it seems. (Associated Press)
A British judge on Wednesday denied bail to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who has been jailed in Britain since 2019 as he fights extradition to the United States.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ordered Assange to remain in prison while the courts consider an appeal by U.S. authorities against a decision not to extradite him.
On Monday, the judge rejected an American request to send Assange to the U.S. to face espionage charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago.
The reason for the judge’s decision not to grant bail was the same prospect I raised on Monday. Because the United Sates immediately appealed the decision it’s still possible (though seemingly unlikely) that they could prevail and Assange could still be extradited. Because of this, the judge ruled that he “has an incentive to abscond” and could not be granted bail because he presents a flight risk.
That’s not an unreasonable assumption, given Assange’s track record. Granted, given how famous and recognizable he is, it might be hard to escape the country without being noticed, particularly when so many nations have banned travel from the UK to their own borders. Even making it through the Chunnel to France would probably prove difficult. And were he to be set loose, it’s a good bet that both the Brits and the Americans would have people tailing him.
But we should also remember that Assange still has many supporters in the UK and around the world, including celebrities and influential political leaders. It’s not inconceivable that they might cook up some sort of an escape plan to smuggle him out in the trunk of a car or lashed to the bottom of a delivery truck or something.
He might not have to actually make it off the island, however. While I’m sure he wouldn’t be looking forward to it, it’s not inconceivable that Assange could cut a deal to ask for asylum in an embassy just as he did before. Ecuador has soured on Assange at this point, but others have not. Both Russia and Venezuela have embassies right in London. The Chinese Embassy is in Kedington, which is only a short drive to the northeast. Any of them might enjoy sticking a finger in the eye of both the United States and Great Britain by hosting a fugitive like Assange for a while and I’m sure they would be interested in any secrets he might still have to tell.
If the appeal by the United States is rejected, which seems fairly likely at this point, none of this will matter. Assange has already served his time for the relatively minor charges he faced in the UK and the Swiss have dropped the sexual assault charges against him. They will no longer have any reason for keeping him locked up and he’ll be put back out on the streets. Shortly after that, it’s a fair bet that he’ll turn up somewhere out of our reach permanently, provided the travel restrictions are lifted. While I may wind up being proven wrong, I would still say that the smart money should be on Russia as his final destination.