Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that Australian-born WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning in connection with sex-crime allegations.
The legal battle over Assange’s extradition has carried on for 18 months. The team defending Assange, whose website gained international notoriety when it released hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents, had argued against his extradition because the Swedish warrant was issued by a prosecutor, which they said is not a rightful judicial authority in Britain.
"The majority has concluded that Swedish public prosecutor was a judicial authority, within the meaning of both the framework decision and the extradition act," said Lord Nicholas Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, whose judges split five to two in favor of extradition. "It follows that the request for Mr. Assange’s extradition has been lawfully made, and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed."
Assange, who is accused of raping one woman and “sexually molesting and coercing” a second woman in 2010, has repeatedly said the sex was consensual and that allegations are politically motivated.
In a twist to Wednesday’s verdict, lawyers of Assange, who did not appear in court, challenged a central point of the judgment and were given 14 days to consider having the case re-opened, which means the case could be heard a second time.
"What is clear is that, in the meantime, Julian Assange can stay in this country," said legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg. "He is not going to be extradited to Sweden until this point is sorted out."
Vaughan Smith, a friend of Assange, responded to reporter's questions about whether the WikiLeaks organization would survive Assange's extradition to Sweden.
"I do not think you should write WikiLeaks off at all, far from it," he said. "It is not for you or me to decide whether WikiLeaks will survive. WikiLeaks will survive if whistleblowers give them leaks."
Assange has 14 days to decide what his next move will be. If the case is not reopened in Britain, he may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The WikiLeaks organization has published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents online, including diplomatic cables held by the State Department about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.