Julian Paul Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, will find out tomorrow if the U.K. Court of Appeal backs his extradition to Sweden to face rape claims almost 11 months after he was arrested in London.
Assange, 40, has argued that the case is politically motivated and that the sex, with two women who let him stay in their apartments, was consensual. The Australian has been under police surveillance at a friend’s mansion in Suffolk, England, since shortly after being detained on Dec. 7, 2010.
The alleged misconduct was revealed as WikiLeaks was being condemned by U.S. authorities for posting thousands of classified military and diplomatic communications. WikiLeaks temporarily suspended its operations last month to raise money during what it called a U.S. “financial blockade.” Visa Europe Ltd., MasterCard Inc., American Express Co. and eBay Inc.’s PayPal halted payments to the site, Assange says.
“Extradition appeals are an uphill task -- there are so many limitations on what you’re able to do with a defense,” said Dan Hyde, a lawyer with Cubism Law in London. “It would be a significant victory for Assange if he’s successful.”
Assange is accused of failing to use a condom in one incident and having sex with a woman who was sleeping, in another in August 2010. The alleged crimes, for which no charges have been filed, took place in Stockholm and Enkoeping, Sweden, while Assange was lecturing to supporters about the publication of U.S. military documents.
The extradition was ordered in February by Judge Howard Riddle in London, prompting lawyers to question the strategy of Assange’s legal team, which had labeled Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny as a “radical feminist.” Assange replaced his lawyers in July.
During the February hearing, Assange’s lawyers introduced evidence of mistakes by Ny in the arrest process and questioned the political motivation of her and other prosecutors.
“Assange will hope his arguments will be seen as more than a smoke screen, with real legal merit,” said lawyer Neill Blundell, who leads the fraud practice at Eversheds LLP in London. “After all, the request is from Sweden and not a third world country with a poor history of civil rights.”
Assange’s appeal was argued by Gareth Peirce, who in 2005 represented the family of a Brazilian electrician who was shot and killed by London police after being mistaken for a suicide bomber. She also assisted at least three British men who were arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In July, Pierce said any ruling from the Court of Appeal can be brought to the U.K. Supreme Court.
Pierce wasn’t available to comment before the hearing.
A rape sentence in Sweden normally leads to between two and six years in prison. A “serious” case, which involves violence and threats, has a maximum sentence of 10 years. A “less serious” case has an upper limit of four years, Sweden’s Deputy Director of Public Prosecution said last year.
Assange, born in Townsville, Australia, began as a computer hacker in his native country and pleaded guilty in 1996 to 24 counts of violating the Crimes Act by accessing and inserting information into computers, including those of Nortel Networks Corp. He received a fine and three years probation.
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