Assange asks UK court to block extradition

WikiLeaks founder fears extradition to Sweden could be first step towards much harsher charges in the US.

Assange was back in court to petition against a possible extradition on sexual assault charges to Sweden [Reuters]

Lawyers for Julian Assange, the founder of whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, have for a second time asked a court to block his extradition from Britain to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct, arguing the case was legally flawed.

Assange’s defence lawyer Ben Emmerson, told two judges in London on Tuesday that the European arrest warrant on which hos client was being held was problematic because it failed to provide “a fair, accurate and proper” description of his alleged crime in Sweden.

Emmerson also argued that his client, arrested in December and released on bail, was a victim of a “philosophical and judicial mismatch” between English and Swedish law on what constituted sex crimes.

Assange, an Australian citizen, was in London’s High Court for a two-day hearing after losing an initial challenge to the extradition order in February.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape made by two women, both WikiLeaks volunteers, in Sweden last August.

Assange denies the allegations and has not been formally charged with any offence.

In a case which has drawn huge international interest, two judges are being asked by Assange’s legal team to rule that his encounters with both women were consensual and the alleged offences do not merit extradition.

A judge originally dismissed arguments by Assange’s defence team that he would not get a fair trial in Sweden and that such a case would violate his human rights.

Assange has said he believes the Swedish case is politically motivated.

Death penalty

The US government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against Assange over the leak of US diplomatic cables last year.

Assange fears extradition to Sweden could lead to him being taken to the US to be served with much harsher charges.

His lawyers have argued that if Assange is charged by the US he could be sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba or perhaps even face the death penalty.

Even if London’s High Court upholds the extradition request, Assange could take his battle to Britain’s Supreme Court.

Assange has hired a new legal team to represent him after his previous team, which included well-known British lawyer Mark Stephens, was seen as too confrontational.

Stephens was replaced by prominent human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

Peirce has represented clients in high-profile cases, including former prisoners held by the US at Guantanamo, and the “Guildford Four”, a group of Irish citizens whose conviction in an alleged bomb plot was overturned after they had spent years in prison.

In an emailed statement prior to the appeal hearing, Peirce’s office said “it would be highly unusual” for the High Court to pronounce a decision over the appeal on the same day.

After a brief spell in prison following his arrest by British authorities at Sweden’s request, Assange was released on bail and has been living under strict court-imposed restrictions at a country mansion in eastern England.

Despite wearing an electronic ankle tag, reporting to police daily and respecting a curfew – all requirements of his bail agreement – Assange celebrated his 40th birthday with a party on Sunday.

Source : News Agencies

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