Britain’s High Court rejects Assange extradition appeal

November 2, 2011

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lost his battle against extradition Wednesday when Britain’s High Court ruled that he should be sent to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

The judgment, handed down by High Court judges John Thomas and Duncan Ouseley with Assange in attendance, dismissed all four of the objections raised by Assange’s legal team.

In their ruling, the judges said that the European Arrest Warrant that triggered Assange’s arrest and subsequent proceedings by Swedish authorities were “proportionate.” 

Attorneys for the 40-year-old Australian are expected to seek permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Britain. The legal team must lodge an application within two weeks and make a case that a point of law of public importance is at stake.

Swedish authorities have not charged Assange, but they have said that they want to question him concerning allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape made by two Swedish women after a trip he made to Stockholm in August 2010. Assange denies the allegations.

A British judge ordered Assange’s extradition in February, but his legal team appealed, arguing that the arrest warrant was flawed and that the sex was consensual and would not be considered a crime in England.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Assange, who was wearing a navy blue suit and a Remembrance Day poppy, delivered a short statement to the jostling throng of reporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. His remarks stood in sharp contrast to the lengthy, defiant speeches he made after previous hearings.

“I have not been charged with any crime in any country. Despite this, the European Arrest Warrant is so restrictive that it prevents U.K. courts from considering the facts of a case, as judges have made clear here today,” Assange said. “We will be considering our next steps in the days ahead.”  

He also urged people to visit swedenversusassange.com, a Web site commissioned by his defense fund, “if you want to know what’s really going on in this case.”

Julian Knowles, an extradition lawyer, said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Assange would be extradited to Sweden. “The only issue is whether it’s in the next couple of weeks or in the new year,” he said.

One possible scenario, Knowles said, was for judges to rule that, in fact, the case does involve a point of law of general importance — for instance, what is the nature of consent? — but still refuse to hear Assange’s appeal, given the specific facts.

Knowles also said that the Supreme Court decision would probably be the final stage in the extradition saga. Assange could, in theory, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, he said, “but the question is: Would they stop the U.K. from extraditing him to Sweden? The answer is no, not unless he has a viable claim that he would be tortured or ill-treated. So he could launch an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but it would be from a prison cell in Sweden.”

If the Supreme Court does hear Assange’s appeal, other legal experts said, a decision in the case could take up to a year. If the court does not hear the appeal, British law enforcement officers would arrange for Assange to be extradited to Sweden within 10 days.

In Sweden, the maximum sentence is six years for rape, two years for sexual molestation and one year for unlawful coercion.

In his recently published “unauthorized autobiography,” Assange conceded that he was cold to the two Swedish women he calls “A” and “W,” but he denied criminality.

“I wasn’t a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure,” he wrote. “Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start.”

Assange has said that the allegations against him are politically motivated — an attempt at revenge after WikiLeaks released a trove of classified military and diplomatic documents that have embarrassed the U.S. government. 

The anti-secrecy Web site recently announced that it will be scaling back operations so that it can focus on raising money, after an 11-month financial embargo by Visa, MasterCard and other firms that accept financial transactions.

Last month, Assange said WikiLeaks faced an “existential” crisis and could close as early as January if it was unable to boost its financial reserves.

Despite mounting legal costs, Assange has stressed that none of the money donated to WikiLeaks has been used to pay for his legal fees in the extradition battle.

Assange remains on bail as his attorneys decide whether to attempt an appeal. Since his arrest in December 2010, he has been living under partial house arrest at a supporter’s home northeast of London. He is required to wear an electronic tag and check in nightly with the police.

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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