Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over claims of rapeand sexual assault made by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers,and he has been fighting a lengthy legal battle against extraditionsince his arrest in Britain in December 2010. The Supreme Court will say whether it agrees with his argument thatthe European Arrest Warrant (EAW) under which his extradition issought is invalid. Two lower courts have already ruled that heshould be extradited. The former computer hacker gained international prominence in 2010when WikiLeaks began releasing secret video footage and thousandsof U.S. |
diplomatic cables about Iraq and Afghanistan, in thelargest leak of classified documents in U.S. history. That made him a hero to anti-censorship campaigners but a menace toWashington and other governments. Assange also faced widespreadcriticism that he had put lives at risk by blowing the cover ofsources who spoke to diplomats and intelligence agents in countrieswhere it was dangerous to do so. Since then, WikiLeaks has faded from the headlines due to a dearthof scoops and a blockade by credit card companies that has madedonations to the site almost impossible.
Assange's personalstanding has been damaged by the Swedish sex case and he has lostsupport from most of his celebrity backers. Since his detention, he has mostly been living under strict bailconditions at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter in easternEngland. His associates say that amounts to 540 days under housearrest without charge. Assange's appeal hinges on a legal technicality rather than thesubstance of the allegations of sexual misconduct or his claimsthat the United States has been putting pressure on Britain andSweden to take action against him. His lawyers argue the EAW was invalid because it was issued by aprosecutor and not a judge or a court as required in Britain.Prosecutors acting for Sweden say different countries havedifferent legal procedures which are allowable under the agreed EAWformat.
The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Nicholas Phillips, is dueto deliver a 10-minute judgment at 0815 GMT with a shortexplanation of how the seven judges reached their decision. EUROPEAN APPEAL POSSIBLE Even if the flamboyant Australian loses his appeal, whichrepresents his final recourse in the British courts, he will notnecessarily be on the next flight to Sweden as he can still takehis case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). If that court agrees to hear his challenge, a decision which mustbe made within 14 days, he can lodge an injunction to have theextradition process put on hold, and it could be months at the veryleast before any conclusive verdict. "If the ECHR declines to take the case then he will be extraditedto Sweden as soon as arrangements can be made," Britain's CrownProsecution Service said. Should he win the case, a spokeswoman for Sweden's prosecutors saidthe EAW would still be valid in any other European country.
Meanwhile, British prosecutors have warned that a decision in hisfavor would set a dangerous legal precedent, with seriousimplications for other EU states wishing to secure extraditionsfrom Britain. Assange's personal travails have accelerated WikiLeaks' slidetowards irrelevance since its heyday. The suspected source of the site's biggest and most dramatic 2010leaks, U.S. intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, is now facing 22criminal charges which, if he is convicted, could land him in jailfor life. Manning's predicament has not encouraged any new sources to comeforward, and to compound WikiLeaks' problems the blockade by thelikes of U.S.
credit card firms Visa and MasterCard has starved itof cash. Assange once enjoyed support from socialite Jemima Khan, filmdirector Ken Loach and crusading journalist John Pilger, but mostof his high-profile backers have since distanced themselves fromhim. Many former friends and associates have turned against Assangealso, describing him as a megalomaniac. However, he still has loyal followers and rallies are planned inseveral countries in the wake of the court's verdict. Instantly recognizable with his unusual white-blond hair, Assangehas appeared in an episode of hit U.S.
animation show "TheSimpsons". He has also launched a talk show on Russia Today, aKremlin-funded English language TV station. (Additional reporting by Alistair Scrutton in Stockholm; Editing byLouise Ireland and Estelle Shirbon).
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