February 24, 2011

Judge Rules Wikileaks’ Assange Can Be Extradited

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual misconduct, a British court judge ruled on Thursday.

In his ruling, Judge Howard Riddle declared that the charges being brought against the 39-year-old Assange by two women were extraditable offenses, and that a warrant issued by Swedish law enforcement personnel was valid.

According to Michael Holden of Reuters, "Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about allegations of sexual misconduct"¦ made by two Wikileaks volunteers during his time in Sweden last August."

"One alleges Assange, who has angered the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, sexually molested her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom during sex," Holden added. "The second woman has said Assange had sex with her while she was asleep and that he was not wearing a condom."

Prosecutors told the Reuters reporter that "the second allegation falls into the least severe of three categories of rape in Sweden, carrying a maximum of four years in jail."

Assange denies the charges, and he and his supporters believe that the allegations are linked to his website, which has posted thousands of classified US State Department and military documents over the past several months.

"The alleged sexual misconduct, which two Swedish women claim took place in August" or about the same time that Wikileaks became drawing "condemnation" for posting the files in question, Bloomberg's James Lumley and Erik Larson reported Thursday. "Assange's lawyers are fighting the extradition and claim the case may be politically motivated."

Assange's lawyers have seven days to appeal the ruling, and according to Associated Press (AP) writer Cassandra Vinograd, have already announced their intention to appeal the decision to the High Court. Assange has been released on bail throughout the extradition process.

In his decision, Riddle denied claims by Assange's legal team that the Prime Minister of Sweden was leading a campaign "to encourage the Swedish media and legal officials to pursue Mr. Assange's guilt and to regard him as a public enemy."

He also asserted that the fact that "rape trials in Sweden" were "held behind closed doors" was "perhaps the most significant of the human rights points" brought up during the course of the extradition hearing. Assange's lawyers had argued that such a closed-door policy would mean that their client would not receive a fair trial, according to Vinograd.

"There was at one stage a suggestion that Mr. Assange could be extradited to the USA (possibly to Guantanamo Bay or to execution as a traitor)," Riddle added. However, he notes that experts provided evidence that such extradition "couldn't happen," that there was no proof that the Wikileaks founder "risks torture or execution" by going on trial in Sweden, and that there was, in fact, "no evidence" that an extradition treaty between Sweden and America even existed.


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