WikiLeaks’ Assange Loses U.K. Top Court Extradition Case

Founder of the Anti-Secrecy Website WikiLeaks Julian Assange
Founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks Julian Assange lost a U.K. Supreme Court appeal to block his extradition to Sweden to face rape claims. Photographer: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, lost a U.K. Supreme Court appeal to block his extradition to Sweden to face rape claims after questioning a technicality of his detainment 18 months ago.

The court today rejected Assange’s argument that the Swedish prosecutor who investigated the sexual assault claims and issued a European arrest warrant for him in 2010 wasn’t a “judicial authority” under European Union law.

Assange’s lawyer Dinah Rose said she may seek to re-open the matter by challenging the court’s handling of the case. She claimed the 5-2 decision in London was unfairly based on the court’s interpretation of a “precise point” of law that wasn’t argued during a hearing in February. If she pursues that route, it would be the first such challenge of a U.K. top court ruling.

While Assange, 40, wasn’t in court today, dozens of his supporters attended the hearing and protesters holding signs surrounded the court’s entrance. Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service agreed not to return him to Sweden until June 13, and his legal team was given 14 days to file a challenge, the court’s spokesman Ben Wilson said after the hearing.

The claims by two women that Assange sexually assaulted them became public around the same time he posted classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks website, creating controversy for U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. Assange, an Australian, claimed Sweden fabricated the arrest warrant to assist the U.S. in punishing him for the breach.

‘Come to Sweden’

“Now for Mr. Assange, I think the best is really to cooperate, to come to Sweden to settle the matter and await the decision if the prosecutor wants to go to trial,” said Christoffer Wong, a lecturer in international law at Sweden’s Lund University. “Of course there may be a way he can delay or obstruct the transfer if he chooses out of principle to do so.”

Assange, arrested in London in December 2010, may also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which would have two weeks to respond, according to the CPS, which represents Sweden in the case.

Assange is accused of failing to use a condom with one of the women and having sex with the other while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let Assange stay at their homes during a speaking tour in Sweden in 2010. The U.K. Court of Appeal ruled in November that he should return to Sweden to face the claims. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.

EU Member Countries

The British appeal doesn’t involve the substance of the rape claims and focuses on Europe’s practice of honoring arrest warrants issued from any EU member country. Assange argued only a judge should be allowed to issue European warrants.

Rose said the judgment today against Assange appeared to hinge on the court’s interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and the way EU member states appointed authorities to issue warrants.

“The contexts permit the issuing judicial authority to have different characteristics from the executing judicial authority and, indeed, for the phrase ‘judicial authority’ to bear different meanings at the stage of execution,” according to the judgment.

Eleven EU member states appointed a public prosecutor as the issuing judicial authority for fugitives sought for prosecution, while others designated judges, according to the ruling. If the difference hadn’t been intended, the countries would have fixed the discrepancy by now, it said.

Assange’s request to appeal to Britain’s top court was initially refused by the Court of Appeal in February. The Supreme Court said it would hear the case anyway after agreeing a clarification of the law was needed.

The case is: Assange (Appellant) v. The Swedish Prosecution Authority (Respondent), U.K. Supreme Court.

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