WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face sex offence charges, a judge ruled today.
The 39-year-old Australian is accused of sexually assaulting one woman and raping another during a week-long visit to Stockholm in August.
But he denies any wrongdoing and his barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, said his client would appeal at the High Court against the extradition ruling.
Announcing his decision at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in south-east London, District Judge Howard Riddle said extraditing Assange to Sweden would not breach his human rights.
He also disagreed with defence lawyers’ claims that what 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.
Judge Riddle said: “The defence refer to the alleged denigration of the defendant by the Swedish prime minister.
“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.”
Point by point, he rejected the various other arguments made by Assange’s lawyers against his extradition.
Contrary to what they had claimed during a two-and-a-half-day hearing earlier this month, he said that:
- The prosecutor who issued the European arrest warrant for Assange was qualified to do so
- The warrant was issued for the purpose of prosecution and not simply for questioning
- The crimes Assange is accused of are extradition offences
- There is no reason to believe the judges who will hear the case in Sweden will be prejudiced by the swirl of bad publicity surrounding the former hacker
- The fact that the evidence in the case is likely to be heard in private, in keeping with Swedish custom, does not mean the trial will be unfair or in breach of human rights
Bail conditions for Assange are yet to be negotiated, with some of his backers who offered sureties currently abroad and others having to be drafted in.
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,” he said. “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 £30,000, 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.