Thursday, February 24, 2011

UK court orders Assange extradition to Sweden

London: Australia-born founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, was on Thursday ordered by a London court to be extradited to Sweden for questioning and possible prosecution on three charges of sexual assault and one for rape. The order upholds European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by a Stockholm prosecutor. An EAW is rarely refused by any European nation. 
   “I am satisfied that extradition is compatible with the defendant’s convention rights. I must order that Mr Assange be extradited to Sweden,’’ said district judge Howard Riddle at the end of a 28-page decree. Assange denies any wrongdoing.
   Assange will appeal against the ruling and has seven days to do so. The case will then be heard at the High court of England. The Aussie believes the allegations against him are politically motivated because of Wikileaks’ publication of sensitive material including secret American diplomatic cables.
   Judge Riddle dismissed the argument that Assange would not receive a fair trial in Sweden because the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had described him as Sweden’s “public enemy number one’’. Riddle said, “I don’t accept this was the purpose of the comment or the effect.’’ On Assange being deported to the US by Swedish authorities, the judge said, “There was no evidence that Mr Assange would be extradited to US for torture as a traitor.’’ 
During the hearing two weeks ago, Assange’s lawyer argued that rape trials in Sweden are ``tried in secret behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice’’. But the judge accepted the prosecution’s view that while evidence is recorded behind closed doors, arguments are open.
The judge also rejected the defence’s plea that none of the suggested offences constituted a rape under English law. Assange is one of the nominees for this year’s Nobel peace prize. Late last year, he was adjudged by editors of Time magazine as runner-up for the Person of the Year award. In the readers’ poll, he was the overwhelmingly the first choice.
Assange was arrested on December 7 last under an EAW and spent nine days in prison before being released on bail. Whether he will continue to be out on bail or held in custody will be decided later on Thursday.

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