WikiLeaks founder’s extradition hearing begins

7 Feb 2011

Julian Assange faces extradition to Sweden this week as a British court decides whether to fulfil Sweden’s request to send the founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks back to face trial for sex crimes.

Assange will try to persuade Judge Howard Riddle to refuse the request during a two-day hearing which is under way today.

The 39-year-old investigative journalist says if he is sent back to Sweden he fears eventual trial and executive in the United States. Assange has angered the US authorities by publishing hundreds of thousands of confidential documents, including secret diplomatic cables, on his WikiLeaks website.

Grounds for refusing Sweden’s extradition request, which was made under the 2004 European arrest warrant, are limited. His best case may be to argue his human rights will be violated if he is sent to Sweden.

Lawyers for Assange claim the arrest warrant is more about his political opinions and journalistic work rather than the allegations over the sex crimes. His case is outlined in a post on the internet.

“There is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere,” the document said.

“Indeed, if Assange were rendered to the USA … there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty,” it said.

Sex allegations

Assange faces four sexual assault charges following complaints from two women in Stockholm relating to incidents in August 2010. Both volunteers for WikiLeaks, the women argue that Assange “sexually molested” them as he refused to use a condom during consensual sex. One of the women said she was asleep during one of the sexual encounters.

The allegations fall under a rape category in Sweden and can carry a punishment of up to four years in prison.

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