Assange back in court fighting extradition

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was facing a second day in a British court Tuesday fighting an attempt to extradite him to Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation.

The 39-year-old Australian's lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is expected to argue that Assange could face the death penalty if extradited on from Sweden to the United States on separate charges relating to the whistleblowing website.

The lawyer spent the first day of the two-day hearing Monday arguing that Assange would face a "flagrant denial of justice" if extradited over allegations of rape and molestation.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations he raped one woman in Sweden and sexually molested another, moves which he claims are politically motivated.

The former computer hacker arrived at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in southeast London wearing a blue suit, white shirt and a red tie and waved cheerily to supporters in the public gallery as he made his way to the dock.

Following the end of the first day's evidence, Assange claimed that a "black box" of accusations against him was being opened to inspection and that the claims of his alleged victims were "empty".

"On the outside of that black box has been written the word 'rape'. That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened," he told reporters outside court.

"I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it."

The judge is expected to defer his ruling until later this month. If the decision goes against Assange, he will be able to appeal all the way to England's supreme court.

Robertson said a rape trial in Sweden would violate Assange's human rights.

"He would be tried behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice," he told the court.

"The Swedish custom and practice of throwing the press and public out of court when rape trials begin is one that we say is blatantly unfair, not only by British standards but also by European standards," Robertson added.

Assange's lawyers are also expected to argue that the extradition request is unacceptable because he has not been charged with any crime.

Having won worldwide notoriety for his website's release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, Assange insists his real fear is that Washington will try to persuade Sweden to pass him on to American authorities.

Robertson argued that a rape charge would not count as rape under European law.

"The (Swedish) prosecutor describes this charge as 'minor rape'. That is a contradiction in terms, rape is not a minor offence," the lawyer said.

But Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish authorities, said the arrest warrant alleges that Assange had sexual intercourse with one of the women "improperly exploiting the fact that she was asleep".

Montgomery said talk of extradition to the United States "depends on a factual hypothesis that has not yet been established as being real".

Assange, who was arrested in London on December 7, faces a widening criminal probe in the United States having enraged Washington by releasing the cables detailing US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the work of US diplomats.

He was released on bail a week after his arrest and has been staying at a supporter's country mansion under strict conditions.

Meanwhile a British journalist from The Guardian has been expelled from Russia after he reported claims in the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that the country had become a "mafia state", the newspaper said.

Luke Harding, the daily's Moscow correspondent, flew back to the Russian capital at the weekend after two months in London reporting on the contents of the US cables, given to his paper by WikiLeaks.

But he was refused entry when his passport was checked on arrival.

© 2011 AFP

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