Assange's attorneys argue the 48-year-old Australian native is at high risk of serious illness from the viral outbreak due to existing medical conditions. File Photo by Bianca De Marchi/EPA-EFE
March 26 (UPI) -- A London court has denied a request for bail by WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, who'd sought release from a British prison due to the dangers posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Westminster Magistrates Court judge Vanessa Baraitser on Wednesday rejected the activist's contention that an outbreak at London's Belmarsh Prison jeopardizes his health and compromises his ability to mount a defense to fight an extradition request from the United States.
Baraitser based her denial on Assange's past actions, which she said have tagged him as a flight risk.
She ruled there were "substantial grounds" to believe that Assange would not attend the next hearing on May 18 if he was released on bail. Some the hearing's participants attended via video conference due to the health emergency.
"As matters stand today this global pandemic does not, of itself, yet provide grounds for Mr. Assange's release," Baraitser said.
The United States seeks to have Assange extradited to face 17 counts of spying and one count of computer hacking for publishing classified documents obtained from former U.S. military whistle-blower Chelsea Manning.
Some of the documents provided evidence of possible U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange's attorneys argue the 48-year-old Australian native is at high risk of serious illness from the viral outbreak due to existing medical conditions that include chest and tooth infections and osteoporosis.
"If he continues to be detained in prison ... there is a real risk that his health and his life will be seriously endangered in circumstances from which he cannot escape," said defense attorney Edward Fitzgerald.
In arguing against his release, U.S. prosecutors cited Assange spending seven years under political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy as evidence of his high flight risk. He jumped bail and fled into the embassy to escape sex abuse charges in Sweden.