Assange Extradition Hearing Continues In London
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange left a London court today still unsure of his fate. A judge will hear closing arguments later this week before deciding whether to extradite the 39-year-old to Sweden. There, he would face questioning about accusations of sexual misconduct.
Assange's legal team argues that could be the first step toward bringing him to the U.S., where government officials are angry about the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks released. Meanwhile, another country, Russia, may have vented its anger by expelling a British journalist who covered the WikiLeaks revelations there.
NPR's David Greene has the story.
DAVID GREENE: Swedish officials want to talk to Julian Assange about his trip to Stockholm last summer when two women say he had improper sexual relations with them. Assange claims everything was consensual. And his lawyers are asking why Swedish officials didn't give Assange a chance to answer questions by video link. Assange emerged from his extradition hearing today and presented himself as a victim of state persecution.
Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Founder, WikiLeaks): We see the unlimited budget of Sweden and the U.K. being spent on this matter and my rather limited budget being spent in response.
GREENE: After a short pause, he took advantage of all the cameras to remind the world of his whistle-blowing organization, WikiLeaks, which he said was a separate matter.
Mr. ASSANGE: It goes on. It continues. Every day, we are publishing serious content around the world and especially about the Middle East, and that gives me great heart as does the ongoing support of the world for my staff and our mission.
GREENE: Separate or not, Assange's lawyers haven't shied away from bringing WikiLeaks front and center. For one thing, they said Assange may have appeared elusive to Swedish authorities last year only because he was worried about death threats from political figures in the United States. Assange's lawyers said extradition to Sweden may be just the first stop on the way to the U.S., where they claimed he could end up at Guantanamo Bay.
Luke Harding, a correspondent for Britain's Guardian newspaper, has reported closely on Assange and is out with a new book on the WikiLeaks founder. Harding said the bloodthirsty comments from some U.S. politicians don't mean the U.S. will actually start a legal case against Assange.
Mr. LUKE HARDING (Correspondent, The Guardian): I don't think it's very helpful, but I also think, to be honest, that it's going to be very, very hard for the U.S. to build a credible case against Julian Assange, because after all, at the end of the day, what did he do differently from what The New York Times and The Guardian did? I mean, he got hold of this information, and he published it on a website.
GREENE: Of course, Harding knows firsthand what a government can do when it gets angry about disclosures. Harding is based in Moscow. He's written about sensitive topics like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's financial dealings. More recently, he's reported details from WikiLeaks cables that portray the Russian government as linked to arms trafficking, money laundering, extortion and kickbacks.
This weekend, when Harding landed back in Moscow, a young border official confronted him at passport control.
Mr. HARDING: And announced kind of rather solemnly that, for me, Russia was closed, and I wouldn't be allowed into the country.
GREENE: Harding said he'd been trying for a while to get a response from the Kremlin about some of the revelations from WikiLeaks.
Mr. ASSANGE: You know, I think the response, as far as I was concerned, happened on Saturday when I was deported. I'm not saying it was just WikiLeaks, but I think WikiLeaks probably pushed them over the edge.
GREENE: The Russian foreign ministry released a statement late today saying Harding's media credentials were just not in order, and that was the problem.
But Harding, who was sent back to Britain on the first available flight, said it would be stupid to believe that this was about his press credential.
Russia, of course, has expelled foreign journalists before. Still, Harding's case gives you the sense that the material Julian Assange is bringing to light has more than just the American government on edge.
David Greene, NPR News, London.
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