In a 6 January hearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser considered Julian Assange’s application to be released on bail. She ruled against his release, stating that Assange had an “incentive to abscond,” and “as a matter of fairness” she needed to give the US government the chance to pursue an appeal, which it has indicated it intends to do.
Baraitser stated that because Assange had previously absconded, he would be unlikely to present himself for justice for appellate proceedings if released on bail. She further stated that Assange’s mental health is being managed at Belmarsh prison, and that the prison has its Covid-19 situation under control.
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision not to grant bail to Julian Assange, which is an unnecessarily cruel step following the prior decision against his extradition. The mental health issues that were grounds to prevent his extradition will only be exacerbated by prolonged detention, and his physical health also remains at risk. This decision is the latest in a long line of disproportionately punitive measures against Assange,” said RSF’s Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent.
“As a matter of principle, no one should have to experience what Assange has endured over the past 10 years simply for publishing information in the public interest. He should not have to spend another moment unjustly deprived of his liberty. We call again for his immediate release on substantive, as well as humanitarian grounds,” Vincent added.
This ruling follows the 4 January decision in Assange’s extradition case, given by Baraitser at London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey). Baraitser ruled against extradition, but strictly due to Assange’s state of mental health. The substance of the decision remains cause for serious concern for journalism and press freedom, as it leaves the door open for future prosecutions of journalists, publishers and sources on similar grounds.
RSF has been the only NGO to monitor the full extradition proceedings in Assange’s case, and has documented extensive barriers to open justice.
The US and UK are respectively ranked 45th and 35th in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.