LONDON — A British judge upheld an arrest warrant for Julian Assange for the second time in a week on Tuesday, a significant setback for him after 5½ years of evading authorities by living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Before a packed London courtroom, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected the arguments made by Assange’s lawyer, stating that he was not a prisoner, that his living conditions were nothing like those of a prison, and that he could have as many visitors as he liked. In fact, she said, he could — and should — walk free at any time to meet his legal fate.
“He is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice,” Arbuthnot said. “He wants justice only when it’s in his favor.”
If the judge had nullified the warrant, Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, might have left the embassy, but that was far from certain. The US and British governments have never publicly ruled out the existence of a secret request to extradite him to the United States, where he could face prosecution for publishing classified documents.
“We are surprised,” Assange said on Twitter. “Judge went well outside what the parties presented in court. This seems to have led to many factual errors in the judgment.”
On Feb. 6, Arbuthnot rebuffed a claim by Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, that the warrant was void because it stemmed from a Swedish extradition request that has since been withdrawn.
On Tuesday, she rejected the argument that the warrant was contrary to the public interest, saying that Assange’s “failure to surrender has impeded the court of justice.”
Summers gave no immediate public response to the judge’s decision.
In the courtroom’s public gallery, which held a large contingent of Assange’s supporters, many of the judge’s comments met with gasps and murmurs of disapproval. Afterward, several of his allies cited a 2016 ruling by a United Nations human rights panel, stating that Assange was the victim of arbitrary detention.
“I think it was appalling that the judge was disrespecting the decision of the UN working group,” said Susan Gianstefani, 50, referring to the panel. “Julian Assange is being harassed because of WikiLeaks.”
Emily Butlin, 47, said the judge “spoke as a representative of the UK government, assisting government in their work instead of representing justice.”
Arbuthnot dismissed the United Nations group’s finding as ill-informed. The British authorities have said in the past that Assange is in self-imposed isolation, not detention.
WikiLeaks released in 2010 a trove of government documents provided by Chelsea Manning, a US Army analyst, which US officials said harmed national security.
In 2016, it published e-mails, hacked by Russian intelligence, that were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, has said that WikiLeaks acts “like a hostile intelligence service.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that arresting Assange was a priority for the Justice Department. But no charges against him have been made public, and it is not clear whether the department has prepared an indictment but kept it under seal.
Ecuador recently granted citizenship to Assange, 46, a native of Australia, but Britain rejected an Ecuadorean request to give him diplomatic immunity so that he could leave the embassy without fear of arrest.
Assange’s legal hurdles began in 2011, when Sweden requested that he be extradited there to face accusations that he had sexually assaulted two women. He said that the charges were politically motivated, that he would not get a fair trial there, and that Sweden might turn him over to the United States.
After the British courts rejected his bid to quash the extradition request, Ecuador granted him asylum and he took refuge in the embassy. In doing so, he jumped bail, which resulted in the British arrest warrant.
Summers argued that Assange’s fear that Sweden would hand him to US authorities was reasonable justification for violating his bail conditions. Arbuthnot said there was no evidence to think that would happen.
This week, news organizations reported that years ago, Swedish prosecutors considered giving up the sexual assault case, but their British counterparts urged them not to.
Last year, Swedish authorities did drop their investigation of Assange, along with the request to extradite him, and the arrest warrant is the only remaining legal issue that is publicly known.
In the latest bid to quash the warrant, Summers said that Assange’s health had suffered from being unable to leave the embassy, and that he lacked exposure to sunlight. Arbuthnot responded that Assange’s health was adequate — she accepted that he had depression and a bad tooth — and she rejected the claim about sun deprivation, noting that he had spoken to reporters from a sunny balcony at the embassy.