Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. The BBC reports that District Judge Howard Riddle ruled that Assange’s human rights would not be ‘breached.’ Assange will appeal the losing, his lawyers say; he will be sent to Sweden in ten days if they lose.
Wikileaks has garnered attention world-wide following the release of numerous US embassy cables with top-level, and top secret, information.
According to the BBC , the judge ruled that:
- The allegations against Mr. Assange were extradition offences
- The prosecutor who issued the European Arrest Warrant for Mr Assange had been suitably qualified
- The warrant was issued for the purpose of prosecution and not simply for questioning
The Guardian summarizes some of the arguments used by Assange’s lawyers and the judge’s response:
The defence had argued that the allegations against Assange were not offences in English law and therefore not grounds for extradition. But [Judge] Riddle said the alleged offences against Miss A of sexual assault and molestation met the criteria for extradition, and an allegation made by Miss B if proven “would amount to rape” in this country.
In his summary Riddle accused Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, of making a deliberate attempt to mislead the court. Assange had clearly attempted to avoid the Swedish justice system before he left the country, Riddle said. “It would be a reasonable assumption from the facts that Mr Assange was deliberately avoiding interrogation before he left Sweden.”
Assange, who denies three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape last August in Stockholm, blamed the European arrest warrant system as one that is running ‘amok.’ European arrest warrants were introduced in 2003 with the ‘aim of making the process swifter and easier between European member states.’
Some have raised concerned about the use of such warrants, pointing out that are ‘sometimes’ used before a case is ready to prosecute and have been extended far beyond their original purpose of fighting terrorism.’ 700 people were extradited from the UK under the system in 2010.
Assange and his supporters have repeatedly stated that, should he be extradited to Sweden, he could then be extraddited to the US where he might face separate charges related to Wikileaks and even face the death penalty. According to the Guardian:
There had been no consideration of the allegations against him, Assange said. His extradition would thrust him into a legal system he did not understand using a language he did not speak.
Assange said the US government by its own admission had been waiting to see the British court verdict before determining what action it could take against him.
“What does the US have to do with a Swedish extradition process?” he asked. “Why is it that I am subject, a non-profit free speech activist, to a $360,000 (£223,000) bail? Why is it that I am kept under electronic house arrest when I have not even been charged in any country, when I have never been a fugitive?” Assange had earlier heard the chief magistrate, Howard Riddle, dismiss each of the defence’s arguments.
Assange was arrested and released on bail in December of last year and has since been fighting extradition. In Sweden he will be held in custody, as there is no system of bail there until a possible trial or release.
Might it be possible that Assange is overstating what might happen to him if extradited to the US?
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Photo by Espen Moe (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_4739) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.