WikiLeaks` Assange appeals against extradition

Julian Assange claims his greatest fear was eventual extradition to the US.

Last Updated: Feb 25, 2011, 09:15 AM IST

London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed on Thursday he was ready to fight a lengthy legal battle after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape.

Lawyers for the 39-year-old Australian said they would appeal against judge Howard Riddle`s decision to reject defence arguments that Assange would face an unfair trial that would breach his human rights.

Speaking after the hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates` Court in London, Assange criticised the European system under which he was detained in December over claims that he sexually abused two women in Sweden.

"It is a result of the European Arrest Warrant system run amok. There was no consideration during this entire process as to the merits of the allegations against me," he told around 100 journalists from across the globe.

Celebrity backers including socialite Jemima Khan and rights campaigner Bianca Jagger also attended the hearing. Several dozen supporters, some of them in orange Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuits, demonstrated outside the court.

Assange added: "There was no consideration during this entire process as to the merit of the allegations made against me, no consideration or examination of even the complaints made in Sweden and of course we have always known we would appeal."

He has seven days to appeal and if he fails to do so he must be extradited to Sweden within 10 days of the expiry of the appeals period. Legal challenges go through Britain`s High Court and can go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Assange rocked the world`s diplomatic institutions and infuriated Washington last year when his whistleblowing website began releasing hundreds of thousands of secret US State Department and military documents.

The former computer hacker says the claims against him by two women he met during a seminar organised by WikiLeaks in August last year are politically motivated because of his work.

But the British judge dismantled Assange`s case point-by point.

"As I am satisfied that extradition is compatible with the defendant`s (European) Convention rights, I must order that Mr Assange be extradited to Sweden," Riddle said.

He gave Assange bail on the same conditions as before, namely that he should reside at a friend`s mansion in eastern England, wear an electronic ankle tag and observe a curfew.

The judge dismissed claims that the Swedish prosecutor had no power to issue a European arrest warrant and that the allegations did not amount to extradition offences.

"In this country that would amount to rape," Riddle said about the allegation by one woman that Assange had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep.

Assange`s Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig made a "deliberate attempt to mislead the court" when he said that he had been unable to contact Assange to arrange an interview with Swedish prosecutors, he added.

Riddle also rejected claims that Assange could not face a fair trial as some evidence would be held behind closed doors, and that it was possible he would be re-extradited to the United States where he could face the death penalty.

The judge further said it was "highly unlikely" that comments by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt that Assange lacked respect for women`s rights would affect the case.

Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer for the two Swedish women at the centre of the claims, said it was "regrettable" that Assange was appealing but that he hoped the case would be over by summer.

Assange`s mother Christine said the judge`s order was "political and legal gang rape".

The United States said the case was solely a matter for Britain and Sweden.

"Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the US is not involved," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a Twitter message.

Assange has claimed his greatest fear was eventual extradition to the United States, where his lawyers argued he could be sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility or face the death penalty.

WikiLeaks last November began publishing around 250,000 US diplomatic cables. It has also leaked thousands of secret documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bureau Report