30 May 2012

Julian Assange loses extradition battle

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange loses his battle against extradition from Britain to Sweden to stand trial for alleged sex offences.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will find out on Wednesday if he can be extradited from Britain to Sweden to stand trial for alleged sex offences (Reuters)

Swedish prosecutors want to question Mr Assange over claims of rape and sexual assault made by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers.

He has been fighting a long legal battle against extradition since his arrest in Britain in December 2010.

Britain’s highest court, the supreme court, dismissed his argument that the European arrest warrant under which his extradition is sought is invalid. Two lower courts had already ruled that he should be extradited.

Mr Assange’s lawyers now have 14 days to consider the ruling before a final decision is made. This means the case could be reheard.

Classified documents

The former computer hacker gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began releasing secret video footage and thousands of US diplomatic cables about Iraq and Afghanistan, in the largest leak of classified documents in American history.

He became a hero to anti-censorship campaigners, but the bete noire of Washington and other governments. He was also criticised for allegedly putting lives at risk by revealing the details of sources who had spoken to diplomats and intelligence agents in countries where it was dangerous to do so.

Since his detention, Mr Assange has been living under strict bail conditions at the country mansion home of a wealthy supporter in East Anglia.

His appeal rested on a legal technicality rather than the substance of the allegations against him. Mr Assange’s lawyers argued that the arrest warrant was invalid because it was issued by a prosecutor and not a judge or a court as required in Britain.

He could now appeal to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, which could take months.

Suspected source

The suspected source of WikiLeaks’ most dramatic leaks, US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, is now facing 22 criminal charges which, if he is convicted, could land him in jail for life.

His arrest has not encouraged any new sources to come forward, while the decision by credit card companies Visa and MasterCard to blockade WikiLeaks has starved the site of donations.

Many of Mr Assange’s erstwhile supporters have now distanced themselves from him, although he still enjoys support.