Martin Daley, February 1, 2012
The WikiLeaks founder goes into battle again today.
FOR more than a year the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained closeted at secret locations in the English countryside, surrounded by friends and admirers but shackled on the right ankle with an electronic monitor to ensure he remains within reach, until the law this week hears a case that will decide his future.
Assange will appear in London today before seven of the 12 judges of Britain’s Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, for his appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where is accused of rape, sexual molestation and coercion involving two women.
The legal action against the Queensland-born Assange, 40, has generated considerable public and legal interest worldwide, since he was taken into custody in England in December 2010 under a controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
A Swedish public prosecutor issued the warrant on allegations that Assange had sexually assaulted two women during a visit to Stockholm, Sweden, in August that year.
Assange is alleged to have had unprotected sex with one woman when she allegedly had insisted he use a condom, and also to have had sex with another women when she was asleep. He denies strenuously the claims and says any sex was consensual.
The operation of EAW, which forms the central part of what may be Assange’s last chance to avoid extradition to Sweden, has been a source of conflict within the British legal system since it was introduced.
It was incorporated into anti-terrorism provisions after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US to make extradition easier for prosecutors in Europe.
Critics of the system – it operates in 27 EU countries – say it allows the movement of suspects from one country to another without the need to produce any evidence to support the allegations, as was required before its introduction.
Following his arrest, Assange was eventually given bail on securities and pledges totaling $354,000. But in February last year, a District Judge in London’s Westminster Magistrates Court ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden. That decision was later upheld by the High Court. However, Assange’s lawyers were given permission to appeal that decision in the Supreme Court.
Apart from asserting that Assange is innocent and that the process has been politicised to essentially punish and neutralise him because of the avalanche of embarrassing documents publicly released by WikiLeaks, his legal team argues that the extradition request was invalid on technical grounds relating to the EAW.
The EAW, they said, had been made by a ”partisan prosecutor working for the executive”. They also said the prosecutor was not a ”judicial authority” and therefore was not able to issue warrants under extradition law, making the warrant invalid.
The Supreme Court later said it had decided to hear the appeal ”given the great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor
is a judicial authority”. The court has set two days aside for the case.
The judges can also take into consideration defence claims that the allegations against Assange are politically motivated and related to the activities of WikiLeaks. Extradition is
also not allowed if the person would be prejudiced at trial or restricted in freedom because of his or her political opinions.
On this point, one of Assange’s lawyers referring to the pursuit of his client has said: ”This appears to be a persecution, not a prosecution.” The lawyer for the two Swedish women has rejected any notion of a political tone to the case, saying his clients are victims of a crime.
While the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in Britain, the legal battle could continue regardless of how the court rules on Assange.
The Swedish prosecutor also has other legal avenues to pursue Assange, and if the Supreme Court rules he should be extradited, Assange may be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
If the European Court refuses to hear the case, Assange would be extradited to Sweden as soon as practicable, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.
There is much speculation on what the future holds for Assange. But there are portents.
First, Sir John Thomas, one of the judges in the High Court case that upheld the extradition order, remarked that the High Court view was that Assange’s chances on appeal in the Supreme Court were ”extraordinarily slim”. He also said the court had ”very little doubt that as a matter of law, the [Swedish] prosecutor was within the scheme for issuing warrants”.
Then, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine at his two-bedroom hideaway in the countryside, Assange revealed he had asked a Western intelligence source if he would ever again be free and be allowed to come and go from Australia as he pleased.”He told me I was f—ed,” Assange said.