British Judge: WikiLeaks Founder Can Be Extradited

A British judge today ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face questioning regarding allegations of sexual assault. Assange's lawyer said he would appeal the ruling.

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A British judge ruled today that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden. There he would face questioning and possible prosecution over allegations of sexual assault. Assange insists he will appeal, but Vicki Barker reports from London that he faces an uphill battle.

(Soundbite of reporters)

Unidentified Man #1: Julian. Julian.

Unidentified Man #2: Julian.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

VICKI BARKER: Julian Assange has accused Swedish prosecutors of mounting a politically motivated attempt to silence him and his free speech cause.

(Soundbite of reporters)

BARKER: He shouldn't be sent back to Sweden, he's told the International Press Corps, because he won't get a fair trial there. Today, a British judge rejected all of the defense arguments. Assange's lawyer, Mark Stevens, immediately said he'll appeal.

Mr. MARK STEVENS (Attorney): It reaffirms the concerns that we have about the form of tickbox justice that is the European arrest warrant.

BARKER: Assange himself said he'd been expecting the ruling. Ninety-five percent of all attempts to challenge the Europe-wide warrant are rejected, he said.

Mr. STEVENS: It comes as no surprise, but is nonetheless wrong, a rubber-stamping process that is a result of a European arrest warrant system run amuck.

BARKER: Although he denied ever implying American intelligence was behind the initial accusations against him, Assange said he does continue to believe political pressure is being exerted from unseen quarters.

Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Founder, WikiLeaks): Why is it that I am subject, a nonprofit free speech activist, to a $360,000 bail? Why is it that I am kept under electronic house arrest when I have not even been charged in any country?

BARKER: The system didn't allow him to rebut the allegations against him, he said. Instead, it allows bureaucrats to, in his words, use the coercive power of another state to drag people off to an uncertain destiny. But the judge ruled that the allegations of sexual coercion and the single accusation of rape are extraditable offenses.

The judge also said the warrant itself had been properly issued. Assange now has seven days to launch his appeal. If he loses that, he can take his case to Britain's Supreme Court. But extradition expert Michael Caplan says it's likely all that will buy him is time.

Mr. MICHAEL CAPLAN (Extradition Expert): He does face an uphill tussle because there are very limited grounds upon which you can appeal against his extradition warrants.

BARKER: And the judge, Caplan says, addressed all of those grounds in his ruling. Many of Assange's supporters fear that the Swedes might hand him over to the Americans to be tried on espionage charges. Not so, says extradition lawyer Julian Knowles. He's a colleague of the British prosecutor who represented the Swedes in this case.

Mr. JULIAN KNOWLES (Extradition Attorney): The Swedes would not be able to extradite him without the consent of the United Kingdom. That's a fundamental rule in extradition law.

BARKER: Both Sweden and the U.K. refuse to extradite suspects to countries that might apply the death penalty. If the Americans were to file less serious charges, Knowles says, then any decision to extradite would be made by Britain's home secretary. But Assange could still take his legal battle all the way to the European court of human rights.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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Correction May 25, 2012

We incorrectly said that Julian Assange faced sex assault charges in Sweden. Assange has not been formally charged. Swedish authorities sought his extradition to question him in relation to allegations of sexual assault.

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