by Chiranjibi Paudyal
AR London Correspondent
February 26, 2011
BARRING SUCCESS ON APPEAL, ASSANGE IS HEADED BACK TO SWEDEN
LONDON, England, Feb. 24, 2011 -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault, according to the ruling of a British court here today.
His legal team has said that Assange will appeal. Assange will be sent to Sweden within 10 days if he loses the appeal to face rape and sexual assault charges brought by two Swedish women.
District Judge Howard Riddle said at a packed hearing at the Belmarsh magistrates court that the extradition request was compatible with the European Human Rights Convention "so I must order that Mr. Assange be extradited."
Speaking to Assange's Swedish lawyer, he said there was no evidence Assange faced further charges in the United States or that he could be tortured or face the death penalty there.
Speaking after the court verdict outside the court in London, the WikiLeaks founder said the decision to extradite him was a "rubber-stamping process."
"It comes as no surprise but is nevertheless wrong," Assange said. "It comes as the result of a European arrest warrant system amok."
Assange said that by its own admission the United States government has been awaiting the British court verdict to help determine what action it could take against him.
"What does the U.S. have to do with a Swedish extradition process?" he asked. "Why is it that I am subject, [as] a non-profit free speech activist, to a $360,000 [£322,000] bail? Why is it that I am kept under electronic house arrest when I have not even been charged in any country, when I have never been a fugitive?"
Assange's British lawyer, Mark Stephens, said the ruling had not come as a surprise and reaffirmed the Assange team's concern that adhering to the European arrest warrant (EAW) amounted to "tick box justice".
"We are still hopeful that the matter can be resolved in this country," The Guardian quoted him as saying. "We remain optimistic of our chances on appeal."
Assange has been fighting extradition on the case of sexual assault and rape of two Swedish women while he was there during a conference last August. He was arrested and bailed out in December. Assange has consistently denied the allegations, which involve not using a condom during consensual sex.
It is quite interesting, many say, that Assange, who made public thousands of secret US diplomatic documents through WikiLeaks, is being exposed himself and facing charges. It is said that Assange fears being taken to Sweden because it would make it easier for Washington to extradite him to the U.S., possibly on charges related to WikiLeaks's release of the embassy cables. Those were acquired by jailed Army Cpl. Bradley Manning, whom Assange says he had never met when Manning sent him the trove of cables.
Few have proved major embarrassments to the United States, but several have revealed information the United States was not prepared to make public.
AR London Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal is a former USIA/U.S. State Dept. Visiting Journalist and has written for The American Reporter since 1999. A native of Nepal, he formerly headed the Kathmandu News Agency.