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A British judge has upheld an arrest warrant for Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault charges.
A court in London on Tuesday rejected a legal bid by Julian Assange to have a British warrant for his arrest revoked.
"I'm not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn," judge Emma Arbuthnot told a hearing at the Westminster Magistrates' Court. Arbuthnot added that she will issue a further judgement on February 13, determining whether a separate arrest warrant against Assange for breaching bail conditions should remain in place.
Lawyers representing Assange argued the warrant should be scrapped because he is no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden.
Swedish prosecutors had been investigating the Wikileaks founder after two women accused him of sexual assault and rape in 2010 — charges Assange denies. The 46-year-old sought refuge in London's Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden. The case against him was dropped last May, but British authorities say Assange is still wanted for skipping bail when he fled to the embassy over five years ago.
The Australian-born hacker has previously said that he feared Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face prosecution for publishing a massive trove of classified military documents on the Wikileaks website.
Five years in the embassy
British prosecutors who called for the warrant to be upheld said Assange shouldn't be immune from the law simply because he has managed to evade justice for so long.
Assange's lawyer, Mark Summers, said his client had been living in conditions "akin to imprisonment," and that being unable to leave the embassy had taken a toll on his physical and mental health.
Ecuador, which made Assange an Ecuadorian citizen last month, has urged the UK to grant him diplomatic status so that he may leave the embassy without fearing arrest. Britain rejected the appeal, saying that "the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice."
Supporters of Assange said they planned to hold a protest outside the embassy on Tuesday evening.
nm/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa)