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February 06, 2011

WikiLeaks Founder Fights Extradition

by Jennifer Glasse

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared in a British court for the first day of his extradition hearing.  Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange in connection with sexual misconduct allegations, an extradition request his lawyers believe is politically motivated. Assange's lawyers say they are concerned if he is extradited to Sweden, he could be sent to the United States to face charges for publishing sensitive government documents.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange emerged from court optimistic his name will be cleared. "For the past five-and-one-half months we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life and on the outside of that black box has been written rape. Thanks to an open court process being opened, and I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it," he said.

In court, his lawyers argued the Swedish prosecutor did not have the authority to issue a European Arrest Warrant, and introduced two witnesses who criticized the prosecution’s procedure and the case made by Assange’s accusers.

Extradition lawyer Julian Knowles says Assange’s lawyers are facing an uphill battle. "The room for maneuver that the defense has is very limited because the law is designed to allow for quick simple extradition to other European countries. So the defense do start from a difficult position; they are however raising some interesting issues," he said.

One of those issues is that the Swedish authorities only want Assange for questioning, but Knowles says because the warrant says he is wanted for trial, that argument might not carry weight.

"The defense have got an argument that has got substance to it,  but again I think on balance, the judge will be satisfied that because the Swedes have said on the warrant that they want him for trial, the judge will be satisfied  that that is what they mean," Knowles said.

Assange’s lawyer pointed out in court that Assange had repeatedly offered to be interviewed.  Knowles does not think that will help either. "The fact is he does not want to go back to Sweden, the Swedes say they want to try him and whether he has offered to cooperate or not is neither here nor there," he said.

Knowles says it is difficult to predict any trial’s outcome, but as an experienced extradition lawyer, he thinks this case is fairly clear cut. "My own view of the merit of the arguments is that on the defense side, the defense arguments ultimately, while of substance, will not succeed and that Mr. Assange will be extradited to Sweden," he said.

Assange seemed heartened by the open court hearings.  His lawyers say if he is extradited to Sweden, any trial would be held in secret, as is customary with rape proceedings there.  The extradition case continues Tuesday.