WikiLeaks' Assange appeals against UK extradition ruling

12th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange began his appeal Tuesday against extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations, with his lawyer telling a British court the case against him was legally flawed.

The 40-year-old Australian appeared at the High Court in London seeking to overturn a lower court's rejection in February of defence arguments that he would have an unfair trial in Sweden.

Assange's lawyer, Ben Emmerson, said the conduct described in a European arrest warrant issued by Sweden "fails to provide a fair, proper and accurate description of what is alleged against the appellant."

He said Sweden was seeking his extradition for questioning over the claims of rape and sexual molestation by two women, "not for the purpose of prosecution".

Emmerson also argued that Assange was a victim of a "philosophical and judicial mismatch" between English and Swedish law on what constitutes sex crimes, and extradition could therefore not proceed.

One of the allegations on the warrant is of rape -- that a woman he was in bed with woke up to him having unprotected sex with her.

But Emmerson said that once she discovered the situation, the woman consented, and the offence would not amount to rape in Britain.

"We say what the authorities establish is that the offence, the circumstances as described, must be reasonably recognised as being rape in the United Kingdom," he said.

The alleged incident "does not constitute the offence of rape as recognised in the UK," he added.

Assange arrived at the central London court in a black car, declining to answer questions from a scrum of journalists. He was wearing a grey suit, blue tie, white shirt and glasses.

A supporter yelled: "Keep fighting the American empire, Julian." Other backers at the court included campaigning journalist John Pilger.

Former computer hacker Assange has been living under strict bail conditions, including wearing an electronic ankle tag and a curfew, at a friend's mansion in eastern England since December.

The hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday is taking place before two judges. A decision is expected to be deferred until a later date.

But Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said Tuesday there was a good chance the court will decide to extradite his client.

"I think there is a big risk he will come here," Bjoern Hurtig told Swedish public radio.

"I hope this is going to go as Julian wants but I believe the chances for change are fairly small," he said.

Hurtig was censured by the judge in the previous case for being "unreliable" and trying to mislead the court.

Assange's lawyers have signalled he is prepared for a lengthy legal battle and could take his challenge all the way to the Supreme Court.

He was arrested in December after two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault -- allegations that Assange denies -- as his whistle-blowing website was in the process of releasing a huge cache of leaked US diplomatic cables.

It was the site's latest dump of US government documents, following the release of secret military files about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and angered Washington.

Swedish authorities want to question him over the sex assault claims, although he has not been formally charged. He has claimed the allegations are politically motivated.

Assange has shaken up his legal team ahead of the hearing, replacing vocal media lawyer Mark Stephens with Gareth Peirce, a high-profile human rights lawyer.

Assange has said his greatest fear was eventual extradition to the United States, where his lawyers argued he could be sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility or face the death penalty.

US authorities opened a criminal investigation against Assange in July 2010 but are yet to bring any charges against him.

© 2011 AFP

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