WikiLeaks' Assange loses UK battle against extradition

2nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday lost a bitter legal battle to block his extradition from Britain to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Two judges at the High Court in London rejected arguments by the 40-year-old Australian, whose anti-secrecy website has enraged governments around the world, that his extradition would be unlawful.

"The court dismissed the appeal," said a summary of the judgement, before detailing the four counts on which Assange had appealed against a decision by a lower court in February that he should be sent to Sweden.

Assange said he would consult his lawyers about whether to make a further appeal to England's Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in the land.

He has 14 days to do so, but only if his lawyers can first convince judges that the case is of special public interest.

"We will be considering our next step in the days ahead," the former computer hacker told a scrum of reporters and cameramen gathered from around the world, in a brief statement from the court steps.

"I have not been charged with any crime in any country.

"Despite this, the European arrest warrant (EAW) is so restrictive that it prevents UK courts from considering the facts of a case, as judges have made clear here today."

Assange has strongly denied the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated and linked to the activities of WikiLeaks. He has been under virtual house arrest since he was first detained in December.

During the appeal hearing in July, Assange had argued that the warrant under which he was held last December was invalid because it was issued by a prosecutor and not a court.

However, the two judges presiding Wednesday said it had been subjected to proper judicial scrutiny in Sweden.

They also rejected his assertion that the claims made by two women of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and an accusation of rape would not be offences under English law.

One woman alleged that Assange had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep, and the judges rejected his lawyers' contention that consent to sex with a condom remained consent when a condom was not used.

Thirdly, the judges also rejected Assange's argument that he should not be extradited because he was only wanted for questioning and had not been charged, saying he was "plainly accused" of the crimes.

And they denied the arrest warrant was disproportionate, given that Assange had offered to be questioned via videolink.

The WikiLeaks boss has been living under strict bail conditions -- including having to wear an electronic ankle tag and observe a strict curfew -- at the east England mansion of Vaughan Smith, a supporter and former army captain.

Smith told reporters outside court that Assange's morale was holding up.

"I find it amazing he's able to take the blows, and the blows have been considerable. He's been remarkably robust but then he's very committed and believes in what he's doing," he said.

Assange has previously expressed fears that his extradition to Sweden would lead to his transfer to the United States to face as yet unspecified charges of spying.

His mother Christine told the Australian Associated Press news agency Wednesday that her son was now "even closer to a US extradition or rendition".

"If (the Australian people) don't stand up for Julian, he will go to the US and he will be tortured," she said.

However, the lawyer for his two female accusers welcomed the ruling, saying they "feel a certain degree of relief".

"It has been very trying for them to live with this uncertainty, especially since they themselves have found themselves attacked," Claes Borgstroem told the TT news agency.

He added that Assange "has really been grabbing at every straw" to fight extradition to Sweden.

© 2011 AFP

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