Extradition bid ‘not a human rights violation’

Swedish authorities told Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday that a bid to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for questioning over rape claims is valid and does not breach his human rights.

Extradition bid 'not a human rights violation'

In his final avenue of appeal within the British legal system, Assange’s entire case rests on the argument that the Swedish prosecutor who ordered his arrest in December 2010 was not a proper judicial authority.

But Clare Montgomery, a British lawyer acting on behalf of the Swedish prosecuting authorities, rejected claims made the previous day by lawyers for the 40-year-old Australian.

“The issuing member state has the task of identifying who it regards as the judicial authority competent to issue the European Arrest Warrant,” she told the panel of seven judges.

Montgomery added that there was “nothing either shocking to the conscience or alternative to basic human rights” for a prosecutor or police officer to issue such a warrant.

She told the panel of seven judges on Thursday that it would “undermine” the fast-track European Arrest Warrant system if Assange’s appeal was allowed.

Citing legal examples from France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Cambodia, she said victory for Assange could lead to at least eight European countries being barred from using the warrant system — and there was laughter in the court when one of the judges gently ribbed her after she attempted to say “judicial authorities” in Dutch.

But in her closing argument, Assange’s lawyer Dinah Rose said Montgomery’s case was “untenable”, and that a prosecutor was not an independent, impartial judicial authority.

The white-haired Assange did not comment as he left the grand court building, which is opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London.

He pushed his way through a hail of flashbulbs in the darkness before getting into a taxi, while dozens of supporters of his work on his anti-secrecy website shouted “Well done, Julian!”

It was the second and final day of the hearing at the wood-panelled courtroom in central London.

The judges are expected to defer their decision on Assange’s fate for several weeks.

Court officials said it would likely be handed down in person by the judges to the lawyers in the case, but it was unclear whether Assange would be there for the verdict.

Dozens of supporters were again in court to see the former hacker, who has become a cause celebre since his anti-secrecy website enraged Washington by leaking thousands of secret US documents.

Britain’s Supreme Court only deals with cases that it decides raise a wider point of public interest — which in Assange’s case would be an overturning of the whole fast-track European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system.

On Wednesday, Rose argued that extraditing him to Sweden on the basis of an EAW issued by a prosecutor would breach legal principles dating back 1,500 years.

She said that only a judge or similar official should count as a proper “judicial authority.”

One of the judges mentioned the fact that Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, which deals with EAW requests, turned down the original warrant issued by Sweden.

The reason was because it did not include a mention of the maximum prison sentence, as stipulated by the EAW system. The detail was included on the second warrant, which was accepted.

Assange has spent most of the last year under virtual house arrest at the mansion of a supporter in Norfolk, eastern England, although he has now moved out.

Assange denies the rape and sexual assault allegations made by two women in Sweden, and insists the sex was consensual.

He has also claimed that the allegations against him are politically motivated. Assange has said he fears he will eventually be handed over to the United States, where Bradley Manning, a US soldier accused of handing documents to WikiLeaks, faces a court-martial.

If the court rejects his appeal, Assange will have exhausted all his options in Britain but he could still make a last-ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, prosecutors have said.

But if Assange wins his case it could call into question the entire EAW system.

While the legal battle has dragged on, Assange’s celebrity status has grown.

He is to host his own TV show — although Russia’s state-run RT is the only channel to confirm it will broadcast it — and will also make an appearance as himself this month on the 500th episode of the US cartoon show “The Simpsons”.

A lower court in Britain initially approved Assange’s extradition to Sweden in February 2011. An appeal to the High Court was rejected in November, but he subsequently won permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer

Julian Assange would cooperate with Swedish authorities if they reopen a rape case against him but will continue to resist any bid to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer
Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson in London on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT

“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson told Sky News television about the rape claims.

“The key issue at the moment is US extradition, which we have warned about for many years,” she added.

The WikiLeaks founder is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was arrested at the embassy on Thursday after Ecuador gave him up, and is now also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of official documents.

The Australian has always denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first expired in 2015 and the other was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.

If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, the British government will have to decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.

Robinson said Assange would seek assurances from Sweden that he would not be sent on to America, saying: “That is the same assurance we were seeking in 2010 and the refusal to give that is why he sought asylum.”

She added: “He's not above the law. Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or indeed Swedish justice. This case is and has always been about his concern about being sent to face American injustice.”

The US indictment charges Assange with “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.

He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world.

The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.

But Robinson insisted: “This indictment clearly engages newsgathering activities and the kinds of communications that journalists have with sources all the time.”

The lawyer condemned as “outrageous” claims made by Ecuador about Assange's behaviour in the embassy, including that he smeared his faeces on the wall, saying: “That's not true.”

Quito also accused him of failing to care for his cat. WikiLeaks said Assange had asked his lawyers to “rescue him (the cat) from embassy threats” in October, adding: “They will be reunited in freedom.”

Assange's father, John Shipton, on Sunday urged Australia to bring his son home.