24 Feb 2011

Assange blames ‘railroading’ as judge grants extradition

A UK judge has ruled Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden, dismissing fears his human rights are at risk. Pro-WikiLeaks campaigners tell Channel 4 News the process has become a “joke”.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden. (Reuters)

Julian Assange has branded his extradition hearing a “rubber-stamping process” after a British judge gave the go-ahead to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Swedish authorities who want to question him over sexual assault and rape allegations.

Speaking outside Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in south east London after the judgment, the WikiLeaks founder said: “It comes as no surprise but it is nonetheless wrong.”

He added: “It has been falsely stated that I said that the CIA or the Pentagon werre involved in the initial allegations. I never stated that.

Why is it that I am kept under electronic house arrrest when I have not even been charged in any country? I have never been a fugitive. Julian Assange

“However the process and the handling of those allegations – allegations that one of the prosecution’s witnesses say were as a result of railroading and pressure by others – is something that deserves serious scrutiny.

“Why is that I am subject – a non-profit free speech activist – to a 360,000 dollar bail? Why is it that I am kept under electronic house arrrest when I have not even been charged in any country?

“I have never been a fugitive.”

Mr Assange, 39, is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a week-long visit to Stockholm in August 2010. He has always denied any wrongdoing and his barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, said his client would appeal at the High Court against the extradition ruling.

Judge Howard Riddle said extraditing Assange to Sweden would not breach his human rights despite previous criticism of the Swedish legal system from Mr Assange’s lawyers, who fear he will be tried in secret.

The judge dismissed the argument that he would not receive a fair trial, despite the publicity surrounding the case. He also disagreed with claims that the allegations against Assange would not actually amount to rape in the UK.

Click here for full judgment document: The judicial authority in Sweden-v-Julian Paul Assange
Julian Assange extradition: WikiLeaks supporters outside Belmarsh Magistrates. (Photo: Anna Doble)

Campaigners brand decision a ‘joke’

Pro-WikiLeaks groups gathered outside the court holding up placards which read “Keep freedom free” and “Why aren’t our governments on trial?”.

Two campaigners, who called themselves “Igor” and “KI”, told Channel 4 News they intended to travel to Sweden, if necessary, to show their continued support. “KI”, a Scottish IT worker, said he “feared for Assange’s sanity and safety” and questioned why evidence given by former Swedish judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman had been dismissed.

On 7 February, Ms Sundberg-Weitman told the hearing she felt there was a “malicious mood” towards the WikiLeaks founder in Sweden. But in his summing up Judge Riddle said she had based her views on briefings from the defence and media coverage.

Campaigner “Igor”, who wore a mask, said he was disappointed at the outcome but said support for Mr Assange would get stronger as a result. “KI” said the process so far felt like a “joke”.

Julian Assange ended his statement outside court by urging journalists in Sweden to “be brave” and to question the country’s legal process in the coming weeks and months.

He said: “I call upon you to make this bigger than me. You can make the ridiculous time I have spent on this nonsense worthwhile.”

Mr Assange now has seven days to appeal District Judge Howard Riddle’s decision.

The WikiLeaks website gained world notoriety last year with its huge Afghanistan war files leaks followed by the Iraq war logs and a mass data dump of diplomatic cables between the US and other nations.