WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition from the UK to the US, was denied bail on Wednesday after his lawyers said he should be released because he was highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The 48-year-old, who is at Belmarsh Prison in London, is wanted by the US on 18 criminal counts of conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law.
He says he could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, told Westminster Magistrates Court that Assange had four respiratory tract infections during the years he spent in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Fitzgerald also said Assange had heart problems which put him at increased risk.
“The emphasis is not on flight but survival,” Fitzgerald said, adding that there was no serious risk of Assange absconding.
He said that if Assange fell ill with the virus in prison, “the risk could be fatal.”
Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the arguments, saying that Assange was on record saying that he would rather commit suicide than face extradition to the US.
“As matters stand today, this global pandemic does not as of itself provide grounds for Mr Assange’s release,” she said.
Assange’s past conduct showed how far he was prepared to go to avoid extradition proceedings, and there were substantial grounds to believe that if released he would abscond again, she said.
Assange skipped bail and fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted at the time to answer questions on alleged sex crimes. The allegations have since been dropped.
Assange remained in the embassy for seven years, until Ecuador revoked his asylum.
Fitzgerald told the court that Assange had a partner who had lived in Britain for more than 20 years and that if he were granted bail he would live with her.
He added that the couple had children, though he did not give their ages.
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