The verdict of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing are in, and the news isn’t good for the WikiLeaks founder. He lost the case and is scheduled to be extradited to Sweden in 10 days. Mr. Assange has seven days to appeal the verdict.
At Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in south London, District Judge Howard Riddle said the extradition would not breach Mr Assange’s human rights.
However, Mr Assange said the ruling, which he will challenge, was due to a “European Arrest Warrant system run amok.”
The 39-year-old Australian is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a week-long visit to Stockholm in August.
He denies any wrongdoing and has sought to fight the case on the grounds that if he is sent to Sweden, he could ultimately be sent to the U.S. where he claims he could face the death penalty for leaking diplomatic secrets.
District Judge Howard Riddle disagreed with defence lawyers’ claims that what Mr. Assange is accused of doing would not actually amount to rape in this country.
And he dismissed the argument that the whistleblower would not receive a fair trial, despite a certain amount of negative publicity surrounding the case.
This publicity includes allegedly damaging comments said to have been made by the Swedish prime minister about Assange.
“The defence refer to the alleged denigration of the defendant by the Swedish prime minister,” Judge Riddle said. “For this reason and other reasons it is said Mr Assange will not receive a fair trial. I don’t accept this was the purpose of the comment or the effect.”
Assange will appeal against the ruling at the High Court, his barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC told the court in legal argument.
One woman claims that she consented to sex only with a condom, but that Assange intentionally broke it and continued to have sex with her.
The second alleges he had unwanted, unprotected sex with her while she slept. Both acts would run foul of Sweden’s strict consent laws if proven.
Speaking outside court afterwards, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said the judge’s decision came as no surprise: “This was, I think, reasonably to be expected. It reaffirms the concerns that we had about the form of tick-box justice that is the European Arrest Warrant.”
“What the judge has done is confirm that system is just that.’ But he did not blame Judge Riddle, suggesting instead that he was ‘hamstrung’. He said: “We’re pretty sure the secrecy and the way (the case) has been conducted so far have registered with this judge.”
But Assange and his legal team remain confident that the matter will be resolved in Britain, he added, saying they are hopeful there will be an appeal. He went on: “We have to remember that at this point Julian remains uncharged.”
Assange has had to shell out a huge sum to defend himself so far, with the cost of translating material alone amounting to more than $50,000, his lawyer said.
“That’s a cost the prosecution should be bearing,” he added. “The prosecution should be translating everything into a language he understands.”
Any appeal against the extradition ruling must be lodged in the next seven days. Assange was later given bail on the same conditions as before.
After the hearing, Mr. Assange hit out at the extradition process. “The magistrate here today felt that he was constrained, that he was unable to consider anything that was not on those two pages,” he said.
“His finding was he did not need to look off the face of the warrant. We need a system in Europe where the justice system of our 26 countries can be scrutinised by any one country,” he addded.
European arrest warrants were introduced in 2003 with the aim of making the process swifter and easier between European member states.
But campaigners have raised concerns about their application, arguing they are sometimes used before a case is ready to prosecute and have been extended far beyond their original purpose of fighting terrorism. [via The Telegraph (UK), The Guardian (UK), BBC and MSNBC]