LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prolonged his stay in Britain on Monday, winning the right to petition the Supreme Court to hear his case against extradition to Sweden in connection with sex crime allegations.
On Monday, two High Court judges in London ruled that Assange’s case raised a question of “general public importance,” and he now has 14 days to make a written appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Britain. The court would then decide whether to hear the appeal.
The ruling represents an important lifeline for Assange, who, had he lost his bid, would have been extradited within 10 days to Sweden, where his alleged crimes include rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.
Speaking to journalists outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Assange said: “I think that is the correct decision and I am thankful. The long struggle for justice for me and for others continues.”
While rejecting one of Assange’s main arguments for appeal, the High Court judges said he could appeal to the Supreme Court on whether the European arrest warrant under which he was detained a year ago is flawed because it was signed by a public prosecutor. His attorneys argue that this is not a “judicial authority,” as required by law.
But Judge John Thomas told the courtroom on Monday that the likelihood of Assange successfully applying for an appeal “may be extraordinarily slim.”
If the Supreme Court rejects his case, he could still apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. However, extradition experts said that would not prevent Britain from sending him to Sweden.
The legal odyssey of the 40-year-old Australian began last December, when he was arrested after two women he met in Sweden in August 2010 said he sexually abused them.
In previous court testimony, prosecutors said that Assange had unwanted sex with “SW” while she slept, and that another woman, “AA,” was a victim of coercive, unprotected sex.
Assange denies any sexual misconduct but concedes that he was cold to the women. In his “unauthorized” autobiography, he writes: “I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort but I am no rapist.”
Assange has also suggested that the case is part of a global plot to discredit him after WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. government files.
In February, a lower court ruled in favor of his extradition to Sweden, and last month the High Court in London upheld the decision. In seeking to appeal to the Supreme Court, Assange’s attorneys had to make a case that an issue of constitutional or general-public importance was at stake.
As part of his bail conditions, Assange will continue to live at a supporter’s mansion northeast of London. He is required to wear an electronic monitoring tag and check in daily with police.
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