The UK government has put the Ecuadorian embassy in London on surveillance for years now. AFAIK, Wikileaks has not released any documents damaging to the UK government. Nor has it released any documents that hurt the current US president. Why, then, does the UK government refuse to move on? Activities of Wikileaks seem to continue even after his house arrest, so what's the point?
The UK government is not above the law. UK law requires the government to pursue fugitives. There is no tradition in the UK of allowing fugitives to go free if they are able to remain free for a long enough time. Instead, there is a tradition of the rule of Law, and the expectation that the government will act to uphold the Law.
The case is exceptional because Ecuador has chosen to offer sanctuary in its embassy. It is unusual for the UK police to be unable to arrest someone whose location is well known.
Ok, let's get this down straight.
The Guardian, 2017-04-21: The US attorney general has explicity said that getting Assange is a priority.
Sydney Morning Herald, 2012-09-27: The US military has declared Assange and Wikileaks an "enemy of state".
Independent, 2010-12-17: After 7 months of isolation detention, Manning is offered a plea bargain if (s)he, erm, voluntarily names Assange as fellow conspirator.
Wikipedia: The USA has since 2003 a completely one-sided extradition treaty with the UK which allows UK citizens to be extradited without contestable evidence, but not US citizens in return.
Wikipedia: Gary McKinnon was a Scottish hacker which hacked himself into US systems. After the 2003 treaty McKinnon was told that seven charges are held against him, each worth 8-10 years prison, but he might get only 3-4 years at all if he, erm, voluntarily travels to the US. No guarantee was given. Given that the government very nearly extradited one of their own citizens, Assange fears are fully justified.
The Guardian, 2018-02-11: Sweden does not want to press charges anymore since 2013, but the Crown Protection Service tried to sway them. In an answer that refers to the suggestion that the case could be closed as early as August 2012, the CPS lawyer is quoted as: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”.
The Guardian, 2013-07-03: A hidden microphone was found 2013 in the embassy where Assange resides.
The Telegraph, 2013-05-21: Officers of the GCHQ itself said in internal e-mails that the charges against Assange reek like a fit-up.
The Guardian, 2017-11-10: The CPS admitted having destroyed evidence, notably emails in 2014!
The Guardian, 2017-05-19: The Swedish prosecutors no longer want extradition as of 2017. The international warrant of arrest has been revoked. There are no rape charges anymore.
The Guardian, 2018-02-13: The whole affair is now that they charge Assange with skipping bail for an extradition request that does not exist anymore.
For further information I refer to the excellent answer by James Wood who presented the ruling.
There are still many people who are claiming that the UK only follows the law, so I have researched if there is something, you know, unusual about the behavior concerning Assange. You know, something which indicates that Assange is not treated like a common criminal.
The Guardian, 2012-08-15: The UK threatened to enter the Ecuadorian embassy by force. AFAIK no country has ever dared to speak out such a threat before, not even the USA/USSR during the Cold War.
Prize question: What have Aung Sang Suu Kyi (Burma), Anwar Ibrahim (Malaysia) and Jason Rezaian, Washington Post journalist (Iran) in common? They are all people which have been detained and where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pressed for their release. In all these cases both Sweden and the UK supported the decisions. Now the very same Working Group for Arbitrary Detention came to the conclusion that Assange is detained unlawfully. The UK ignored the decision.
The maximum sentence for skipping bail in the UK before a Magistrate Court is three months, the alleged sexual assault is insofar irrelevant for the UK as it is Sweden's responsibility. As the London Metropolitan Police has clearly stated since a while, they have problems with rising criminality and budget cuts. While the article is from 2017, an overview of other earlier articles indicate that Londoners know that shoplifting, theft, burglary and assault is less and less prosecuted or investigated. But Assange's alleged sexual assault and bail skipping must be very important because the Met surrounded the embassy with up to 50 (!) policemen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which until August 12th, 2015 summed up to a notable 12.6 million pound bill. One commenter pointed out an article in which the Met claimed the costs were covered by the budget for diplomatic protection. The little problem with this answer is that there is a responsible unit, the Diplomatic Protection Group (Special Operations 6), now the PaDP, which is recognizable by driving red cars and being heavily armed. But the policemen guarding the embassy are not part of the group because they are missing the heavy armament necessary for the service. And against whom should they "protect" the Ecuadorian/Colombian embassy exactly?
So the claim that the UK is "just following the law" is baseless. The claim that it is about sexual assault is baseless.
And now someone can tell me why it is not unusual that a government pays millions of pounds to track a fugitive (give a counterexample, please), that evidence is destroyed on purpose and that after the original country has dropped the arrest warrant, the UK judge admits that the British arrest warrant is now solely for skipping bail. They explicitly say that seven years in an embassy is an insufficient "punishment" for skipping bail.
Based on the former conclusions the reason is obvious for me: The US government has either strongarmed the UK that they want Assange and threatened repercussions or convinced the UK that sooner or later Wikileaks will publish dirty laundry about UK politicians so they should persecute him in their own interest. Possibly both.
I adjusted this addition now because there have been now clarifications posted on other answers. Please see the edit review to see the old version.
Some claimed that the charges are not dropped, this has been refuted now. I also reviewed the headlines and the text again.
At some of the more hostile commenters: Knowing that it is a hot topic, I deliberately sourced every statement on which my conclusions are based.
In your accusations, claims and scorchers you did not come up with a single sourced statement of your own. No word about misbehavior on the government side (destroying evidence, remember?). It would have been given a much better impression if you were providing facts and evidence to prove that I am wrong, so I believe your actual behavior has bolstered my case. Thank you.
REMARK: Have now reworked the answer again and put some other info together.
ADDENDUM: A commenter had remarked that the selection of my sources is rather limited. I absolutely invite everyone to make their own research and look out for other sources to get a more rounded view. Note what they claim, what sources are presented and what conclusions are made. Look out for things who may be misrepresented here or contradict your own sources.
The UK courts have issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange - for failing to surrender whilst on bail. Assange took this matter to Westminster Magistrates’ Court relatively recently. It's well worth reading the full rulings by Emma Arbuthnot, the Senior District Judge.
There are two ruling documents, the first document focuses on if the arrest warrant it still valid, whilst the second focuses on if it is still in the public interest to arrest Assange. The ruling documents are a little lengthy, and very much legal documents. I am not a lawyer. As best I can, I have attempted to extract what seems to be the key details.
I believe the contents of the first ruling document can be reasonably summarised as; Julian Assange should be arrested - for failing to surrender whilst on bail. The fact that the thing he was on bail for - extradition to Sweden - was later withdrawn isn't important.
AN APPLICATION BY JULIAN ASSANGE TO CANCEL AN ARREST WARRANT
RULING OF THE SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE (THE CHIEF MAGISTRATE) EMMA ARBUTHNOT,
6TH FEBRUARY 2018
- This is an application made ... that I withdraw an arrest warrant issued at this court when Mr Assange did not surrender for extradition to Sweden.
- The extradition of Mr Assange to Sweden was ordered by this court on 24th February 2011. Various appeals were then dismissed and on 28th June 2012 a notice to surrender to Belgravia Police Station was served on Mr Assange who by then was resident in the Ecuadorian embassy. He did not attend the police station and a warrant for his arrest was subsequently issued by this court.
- On 26th May 2017 following discontinuance of the underlying Swedish proceedings and the cancellation of the arrest warrant issued in Sweden, the European Arrest Warrant was withdrawn before Westminster Magistrates’ Court
- The sole issue for me to consider at this stage is whether the warrant ... can remain in force when the extradition proceedings have terminated.
- If a person who is on bail fails without reasonable cause to surrender he shall be guilty of an offence. On a straightforward reading of the section, which makes no mention of any underlying proceedings, 1. Mr Assange has been released on bail, 2. He has failed to surrender and 3. If he has no reasonable cause he will be guilty of an offence.
- Mr Assange failed to surrender to custody and the court decided to issue a warrant for his arrest.
- ... It is not uncommon for Bail Act offences to be pursued when the substantive proceedings are no longer in existence.
- ... I am not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn.
There is too much to reproduce here but the ruling goes into a detailed explanation of the public interest points which are worth a read. I believe this ruling can be reasonably summarised as; it is still in the public interest to arrest Assange.
Edit: I've added additional extracts from the ruling regarding the considerations given to rendition and extradition. I believe the distinction, is that the first is a transparent legal process, whilst the later is a covert action.
Edit: I've added additional extracts related to United Nations’ Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. That section of the ruling is rather lengthy, I have chosen to highlight those elements which I feel most accurately represent the section.
AN APPLICATION BY JULIAN ASSANGE
RULING OF THE SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE (THE CHIEF MAGISTRATE) EMMA ARBUTHNOT
RULING NO. 2
13TH FEBRUARY 2018
- This application ... that I consider whether it is in the public interest that proceedings against Julian Assange should be initiated... [arrest].
- He contends that the court should now find that any proceedings for failing to surrender are disproportionate and not in the public interest and that in the circumstances the [arrest warrant] should be withdrawn.
The first point [Mr Assange had reasonable grounds for taking the course he did because he feared being sent to the United States]
- I accept that Mr Assange had expressed fears of being returned to the United States from a very early stage in the Swedish extradition proceedings but, absent any evidence from Mr Assange on oath, I do not find that Mr Assange’s fears were reasonable. I do not accept that Sweden would have rendered Mr Assange to the United States. If that had happened there would have been a diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States which would have affected international relationships and extradition proceedings between the states.
- Rather than rendering Mr Assange to the United States, if the US had initiated a request to extradite Mr Assange from Sweden, Sweden would have contacted this court and the judiciary here would have had to consider the request. Mr Assange would then have been able to raise any bars to extradition including fair trial and conditions of detention.
The second point [that the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Assange’s situation in the Ecuadorian Embassy was disproportionate and unreasonable.]
- I have read the Opinion. The group appears to have based its conclusions on some misunderstandings of what occurred after Mr Assange’s arrest.
- ... what I can say is that the Working Group was quite wrong when it implied that Mr Assange had been left outside the cloak of legal protection.
- ... the “house arrest” and “harsh restrictions” referred to by the Working Group ... were proposed by Mr Assange himself.
- It is true that he has restricted freedom in the Ecuadorian Embassy, but...he can leave the embassy whenever he wishes...I suspect if one were to ask one of the men incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison whether conditions in the Ecuadorian Embassy were akin to a remand in custody, the prisoner would dispute the Working Group’s assertion.
- My reading of the Working Group’s opinion led me to look at the dissenting opinion of one of the members of the Working Group. ... He said of Mr Assange’s situation that it was self-confinement ... and was not within the mandate of the Group.
- I do not find that Mr Assange’s stay in the Embassy is inappropriate, unjust, unpredictable, unreasonable, unnecessary or disproportionate.
- For reasons which must be clear I give little weight to the views of the Working Group.
- Mr Summers says Mr Assange fears being rendered to the United States by Sweden. There is no evidence that that was going to happen. He would not have been rendered by this country to the United States nor by Sweden. ...
- I have found above that Mr Assange’s failure to surrender has impeded the course of justice and has led finally to the case being dropped as it cannot be continued unless he returned to Sweden. ...
- ... I must look at the impact on public confidence in the criminal justice system if Mr Assange is allowed to avoid a warrant for his arrest by staying out of reach of the police for years in conditions which are nothing like a prison. ...
- The impression I have ... is that he is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice ... He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favour.
- ... I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years. Defendants on bail up and down the country ... come to court to face the consequences of their own choices. He should have the courage to do so too.
- It is certainly not against the public interest to proceed. ...
Edit: I have changed the formatting as in some cases markdown was incorrectly numbering elements. The numbering now correctly reflects the original source, this may mean references in the comments below are incorrect. Apologies.
They're just following the laws.
In 2010 a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Julian Assange to face charges of sexual assault in Sweden. As a member of the European Union at the time, the United Kingdom was obligated to execute this warrant, and arrest and extradite Assange for trial, unless it was found to be unlawful. He was arrested, and released on bail. Assange appealed the extradition, but failed; it was found to be lawful.
Assange then violated the terms of his bail by fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy. This is a crime typically resulting in jail time, and this crime was against the UK government itself, not a foreign one. Today, the original charges of sexual assault are not being actively pursued, but the bail violation remains and is not subject to any statute of limitations.
There is nothing unusual about the UK government's actions here that requires political explanation. It would be very unusual if they decided to "move on" and drop charges against a man who is unambiguously guilty (of bail violation) and whose location they know, just because they are not able to physically access him to perform the arrest.
To save face. Allowing him to leave after spending millions of Pounds on effectively detaining him would be viewed as a loss by the government. It would also be a sign that people can evade the law and "get away with it", although some would argue that being stuck in the embassy is itself a punishment.
When the government eventually changes it is possible that a different party could allow him to leave in the name of saving money, but even then would likely be criticised for allowing someone wanted for skipping bail to escape justice.
On paper the UK wants him for escaping extradition to Sweden over the two rape charges he got over there. He did this, as you know, by seeking refuge into the Ecuador embassy instead of showing up during his hearing in court. Call it rule of law or saving face as has been done in the two answers so far if you feel like slapping a name on it.
In practice it's murkier.
Assange reportedly suspects there are sealed indictments against him in the US. If that is true, he'd get arrested and extradited to the US the moment he steps out of the embassy. And let's get real, Sessions and Trump aren't exactly friendly to Assange:
Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”
He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
It certainly doesn't help that May is courting the US to boot, with an eye on signing some kind of trade agreement with the US after Brexit.
At any rate, the point is that Assange isn't willing to take the risk of stepping out, presumably until he has some kind of guarantee of safe passage to some final destination.
Part of the rule of law, is to ensure that a person complies with the law.
UK law states that if someone is required to attend court, and is allowed to go their own way on the understanding they will attend the court when the case is ready to be heard, but then deliberately avoids doing so, that is an offence - a crime - in its own right. It doesn't matter what they were originally due to attend for or even if that case was dropped, the failure to honour their obligation to attend a court, is itself a new crime, for which they will be heard and judged.
In that sense it's a bit like the kid who steals cookies or takes loose change from their parents' drawer, and then lies about doing so. Not unreasonably even if the cookies were unimportant or the change recovered, the parents may well emphasise that the lying was the really serious thing.
This is similar. Whether he was right or wrong about the Swedish case and US intentions (and I rather suspect he was right, though we may never know), he knowingly committed a separate crime by failing to attend after bail. He did it because he felt overall it would be better to do so, for him. Nobody is above the law and whether or not he felt his hand to be forced (and whatever one might think of him personally), that was a crime in its own right. To be let off it would send the wrong message.
Morally, if his calculation was that skipping bail was worth it to avoid the US, then he made a calculation that it was worth restricted living in an embassy and breaching his bail (breaking his word to the UK court), to get rid of the perceived/actual risk of a US extradition and life sentence. He now has to honour the cost of what he calculated (or what he should have known would be the cost of it).
For what it's worth, my personal feeling is that candidly, given what he expected/expects to avoid, this is minor and he should just accept it once he feels safe to leave his refuge - it will reflect well on him.
The question seems based on the premise that the UK does not have any reason to arrest Assange other than Assange's / Wikileaks' publishing activities. But Assange was the subject of a European Arrest Warrant, upheld by three UK courts, for allegations of four sexual offences including one of rape, which the UK was obliged to comply with. And now he is accused of absconding from bail (he was on bail pending appeal against and execution of the warrant, when he sought asylum in the embassy). These are things for which an arrest would normally be sought.
A general answer. Other answers already dwell on the specific legal mechanics and strategems of prosecution.
Some of the British Government, (and its ally the US Government), hate Assange and what Wikileaks was able to do, because widespread malfeasance breeds a perverse love of secrecy. The degree of acrimony seems inversely proportional to the actual merit of a given piece of information's classification:
Had Assange done what the Rosenbergs did, (shared technical secrets about a super-weapon), nobody would be asking a question like this, because the question itself would be absurd.
But most of the leaks are tediously banal, and much of the rest of the leaks tend to imply errors, malfeasance, and corruption petty and larger, neither of which have any good civic reasons to remain secrets. Those persons exposed and embarrassed wish to draw public attention away from their assorted shames by pretending Assange's deeds are equivalent to sharing technical secrets about a super-weapon.