February 7, 2011

Extradition Hearing For WikiLeaks Founder Assange

A London court will be the showdown location for the computer hacker turned secrets leaker Julian Assange who Sweden wants to extradite to face sex crimes allegations.

Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and his entourage of lawyers, supporters, protesters and journalists will be present for a two-day hearing that begins Monday to decide Assange's legal fate, AP reports.

It will also keep the spotlight away from WikiLeaks' revelations and on its opinion-dividing front man.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year.

A high-security judicial outpost beside the prison, Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, is the place where defense lawyers will argue that he should not be extradited because he has not been charged with a crime, because of flaws in Swedish prosecutors' case "” and because flying to Sweden could land him in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay or ultimately on US death row.

The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, is attempting to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks, which has angered the Obama administration by publishing a trove of leaked diplomatic cables and secret US military files.

Preliminary defense arguments released by Assange's legal team claim "there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere," defense lawyers told AP. "There is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty," they continue.

Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to jurisdictions where they may face execution. Many legal experts say the Guantanamo claims are fanciful, and Sweden strongly denies coming under American pressure.

Nils Rekke, head of the legal department at the Swedish prosecutor's office in Stockholm, said Assange would be protected from transfer to the US by strict European rules. "If Assange was handed over to Sweden in accordance with the European Arrest Warrant, Sweden cannot do as Sweden likes after that. If there were any questions of an extradition approach from the US, then Sweden would have to get an approval from the United Kingdom," he told reporters.

Assange's lawyers will also battle extradition on the grounds that he has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is only wanted for questioning. Assange's lawyers argue that "it is a well-established principle of extradition law ... that mere suspicion should not found a request for extradition."

Assange is also accused of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion against the second woman. The leaked documents show she accuses him of deliberately damaging a condom during consensual sex, which he denies. The picture is more confused by the fact that one Stockholm prosecutor threw out the rape case, before a more senior prosecutor later reinstated it and asked for Assange's extradition from Britain so she could question him.

Lawyers for Assange argue that amid the confusion, the European arrest warrant was improperly issued. They allege Assange "has been the victim of a pattern of illegal and/or corrupt behavior by the Swedish prosecuting authorities," who leaked his name to the media, rejected his requests to be interviewed from London, and failed to make the evidence against him available in English.

Lawyers for Sweden have yet to disclose their legal arguments.


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