England's top court allows WikiLeaks chief to appeal
England's highest court granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange permission Friday to appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations, setting the hearing for February 1.
If the Supreme Court rejects his case next year, the 40-year-old Australian will have exhausted all his options in Britain but he could still make a last-ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, prosecutors said.
"The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal and a hearing has been scheduled for two days, beginning on 1 February 2012," said a statement from the highest court in England.
It said his case raised an issue of "great public importance", namely whether Sweden's state prosecutor had the right to sign the European arrest warrant under which Assange was held, and would be considered by seven judges.
The former computer hacker will now spend a second Christmas living under tight bail conditions at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter in Norfolk, eastern England, as his legal battle stretches into a second year.
Assange was arrested in Britain in December 2010 after two women made allegations of sexual molestation and an accusation of rape in Sweden, which he strongly denies.
He says the sex was consensual and claims the allegations are politically motivated, linked to WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of classified US files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables.
The Supreme Court decision comes as Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of passing the files to WikiLeaks, made his first appearance in a US court after more than 18 months spent in US military custody.
The hearing will determine whether the former intelligence analyst, who turns 24 on Saturday, should be tried on charges which could see him sentenced to life imprisonment.
Assange's extradition to Sweden was initially approved by a lower court in February. An appeal to the High Court was rejected in November, but it subsequently granted him permission to take his battle to the Supreme Court.
If February's appeal fails, the WikiLeaks founder will have only one other option to stop his extradition -- an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
"If the ECHR takes the case then his current bail conditions would remain in force and he would remain in the UK until the proceedings at the ECHR have concluded," the Crown Prosecution Service said in a commentary on the case.
"If the ECHR declines to take the case then he will be extradited to Sweden as soon as arrangements can be made."
© 2011 AFP