Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s ongoing extradition hearing in London will decide whether he goes back to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning in connection with one rape allegation and one sexual molestation allegation, or whether he can stay in the U.K. Sweden wants him extradited because they claim he left their country before they could arrest him. Assange denies any wrongdoing and says he left Sweden after five weeks of waiting to be questioned and after being told he had permission to go.
Assange claims that if sent back to Sweden, he can’t get a fair trial because proceedings are behind closed doors. Closed court sessions in sex cases mean no reporters or other outsiders are present. He also claims that Sweden’s definition of rape in this case is not consistent with the definition of rape in other parts of the European Union. The complainant claims she had consensual sex with Assange while he wore a condom, but was upset when she awoke to him having sex with her without a condom. Assange’s lawyer argues this would not rise to a definition of rape in most of Europe because she “let him continue”. The Swedish prosecutor says this is a classic definition of rape violating a woman’s integrity by penetration.
Assange also argues that if extradited to Sweden, the U.S. will seek his extradition and there is a real risk of his being detained at Guantanamo Bay detention center. He might even face the death penalty. Wikileaks published thousands of classified U.S. military documents. These publications are under a broad ongoing U.S. federal investigation which could subject Wikileaks and Assange to criminal prosecution in the U.S. After months of review, however, no indictments have been issued for publishing confidential documents.
Sweden refutes Assange’s arguments by claiming that Sweden’s trial proceedings are inherently fair, their definition of rape is consistent with the European Union, and a U.S. prosecution is only hypothetical at this point, and has not been established as a real risk.
Assange seems to be advancing a veiled conspiracy theory implying that the U.S. is working through the Swedish government. Assanges seems to be suggesting that Sweden is pursing these charges at the behest of the U.S. as a way to get the U.K. to extradite him to Sweden. Once in Sweden, the U.S. can extradite him from Sweden to the U.S. to punish Wikileaks and Assange for the leaks. Debate has raged whether Wikileaks has provided a public service or has done grave harm. Some think he is a freedom fighter, others think he is guilty of treason and endangering national security. Assange’s supporters include Bianca Jagger and Jemima Khan. Reportedly, some of Assange’s supporters have already nominated him for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Some of his detractors want him stopped.
Given the political overtones of the case, and the conspiracy theory Assange is advancing, the argument before Judge Howard Riddle may have some initial sway, if not actual merit. Judge Riddle must decide whether to extradite based on whether the warrant was issued for the purpose of prosecuting or persecuting Assange on account of his political opinions. English courts have stopped extraditions on grounds of political motivation. But is this case really politically motivated? Is Sweden doing this for the U.S.? Does the U.S. need Sweden to extradite? Couldn’t the U.S. extradite Assange from the U.K. if they wanted him? If Judge Riddle orders extradition, or he doesn’t, both sides have indicated they will appeal. And an appeal to the Administrative Court can take up to three to four months. From there they can appeal to the Supreme Court if it is certified, and from there, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
If Assange is not extradited, he can still be questioned in connection with the allegations in the U.K. at the Swedish Embassy in London or by a telephone or video link that would allow him to remain in Britain. Even if Assange is not extradited, he still may be subject to extradition to the United States if and when there is ever an indictment returned. I believe the Swedish prosecutor is correct that it is too speculative and hypothetical to argue that he should not be returned to Sweden because from there he could be extradited to the U.S. As of now, the U.S. is not seeking his return. And if and when they are, I believe they can seek his extradition from Britain. As to whether he can get a fair hearing in a closed proceeding in a sex case in Sweden, it seems as if Britain would have to condemn Sweden’s judicial system procedurally by denying extradition in this case- I assume the proceedings are closed to protect the privacy of the victim, not to railroad the rights of the defendant, and that sufficient safeguards are in place to insure the fairness and integrity of the proceedings. As to the last claim, that the definition of rape is inconsistent with the other European countries’ definitions, this argument is unlikely to persuade Judge Riddle.
Assange’s best argument is that he is being persecuted for leaks, and while it has a certain ring to it, it probably lacks actual merit.