Martin Daly, London – February 4 2012
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange faces a tense wait after seven judges of the British Supreme Court adjourned to decide whether he will be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.
The two-day appeal by Assange against a lower court’s decision to uphold the validity of a Swedish arrest warrant marks the end of a year-long legal battle to avoid extradition, sparked by allegations by two women in 2010 that he sexually assaulted them.
The appeal ended in a war of words between Assange’s barrister, Dinah Rose, and Clare Montgomery, QC, representing the Swedish Judicial Authority, as each sought to persuade the judges to support their respective positions not only on the fate of Julian Assange, but on the future of a controversial extradition treaty that operates throughout the European Union.
The court must decide whether the European arrest warrant, under which Assange is being sought for extradition, is valid because it was issued by a prosecutor in Sweden and not, as Assange claims it should have been, by a judge.
Ms Montgomery argued the warrant was valid, partly because it was normal for prosecutors in Europe to issue them, while Ms Rose told the judges the warrant breached natural justice and should not stand.
The court was packed each day, with members of the public and the media accommodated in overflow rooms, while outside a loyal band of Assange supporters braved the cold as they waited hours for him to arrive and then leave.
”I’m here because I want to support Julian and WikiLeaks,” says Susan Gianstefani, from Melbourne, who has protested with her husband in support of Assange outside various courts for more than a year.
”I have sympathised with him very strongly from the beginning because of the way he has been treated.”
Former British SAS solder Ben Griffin turns up with Veterans for Peace to support Assange. ”I see him as a war resister, responsible for releasing information about killing and torture, destruction of people’s homes in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says.
Ciaron O’Reilly, originally from Brisbane and a lifelong member of Catholic Workers, left Australia in 1996 to support four women who were on trial for disabling a Hawk fighter that the then British Aerospace – now BAE Systems – was selling to Indonesia during its occupation of East Timor.
He was jailed in the US for damaging a B-52 bomber with a hammer on the eve of the first Gulf War.
Mr O’Reilly knows Assange and likes him. ”Basically I see him as an anti-war protester,” he says. ”I have served prison time in a number of places and I know the importance of solidarity when you are before the court.”