WikiLeaks Founder Back in Court to Challenge Extradition
By JOHN F. BURNS and RAVI SOMAIYA
The hearing, scheduled to continue on Tuesday, was the culmination of an acrimonious public battle with prosecutors in
Mr. Assange, wearing a dark blue suit and patterned tie, sat alone in an expansive glass-walled defendant’s box, a space that has been occupied by notorious Islamic extremists during terror trials. He occasionally passed yellow notes to his extensive legal team but barely spoke, beyond complaining at one point that he could not hear one of the Swedish witnesses summoned to testify on his behalf.
The hearing was the result of the Swedish prosecutors’ action in early December in issuing a European arrest warrant for Mr. Assange, a step that led to his being jailed for nine days and then released on bail. Mr. Assange’s lead lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, told the court there would be “a real risk of a flagrant denial of justice” if the Swedish government succeeded in securing his extradition, because his case would probably be heard in closed sessions, with no reporters or other outsiders present, in keeping with Swedish policy in sex cases. In such circumstances, he said, even if Mr. Assange were to be acquitted, “the stigma would remain.”
Outside the court later, Mr. Assange told the throngs of reporters, photographers, antiwar protesters, curious passers-by and wide-eyed fans who have become his traveling entourage in recent months that “a black box has been applied to my life, and on the outside of that black box has been written the word ‘rape.’ ” He added, “Now, as a result of an open court process, that box is being opened."
Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had consensual sexual relations with each of the Swedish women. He has described the sexual abuse accusations as “lies,” and implied that the real origins of the case were in a smear campaign by unidentified forces bent on punishing him for WikiLeaks’ actions in obtaining hundreds of thousands of classified
It is an argument that has found favor among celebrity supporters like the socialites Bianca Jagger and Jemima Khan, and a veteran leftist politician, Tony Benn, who were in the public gallery for the hearing, a silent vanguard for the wide support the WikiLeaks founder has attracted around the world. Some supporters have already nominated him for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Assange’s calm demeanor contrasted with the hubbub outside. The hearing took place at
Swedish prosecutors have insisted that Mr. Assange be questioned in Sweden — and not at the Swedish Embassy in London or by a telephone or video link that would allow him to remain in Britain, as his lawyers have suggested.
His defense team said Monday that he feared that if he were forced to return to
The Swedish warrant lists the offenses under investigation as “unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and rape.” The accusations refer to relatively minor offenses under a complex Swedish system that distinguishes among levels of rape. The charges in Mr. Assange’s case are in the least serious of three categories. A conviction in that category carries no minimum sentence and a maximum of four years’ imprisonment.
Lawyers for Mr. Assange said they did not expect a decision by the district court judge hearing the case, Howard Riddle, before next week. Either side — the British lawyers representing the Swedish prosecutors or Mr. Assange’s legal team — is likely to appeal whatever decision the judge makes, and Mr. Assange’s lawyers have hinted that they might carry the case to European courts, which could drag out a decision for months or even years.
Presenting the Swedish government’s case, Claire Montgomery, a lawyer for
But Mr. Assange’s team called on two Swedish witnesses to buttress his claim that the Swedish accusations were the product of a legal system that has embraced a hard-line feminist view of what constitutes sexual abuse. Brita Sundberg Weitman, a Swedish judge who retired in the 1970s, said the Swedish prosecutor who signed the extradition warrant, Marianne Ny, “has a rather biased view against men in the treatment of sexual offenses,” and that Mr. Assange would face a hostile reception in
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs