Tuesday, February 8, 2011

WikiLeaks Founder Back in Court to Challenge Extradition



The New York Times

February 7, 2011


WikiLeaks Founder Back in Court to Challenge Extradition


LONDON — Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, said at a court hearing on Monday that they thought he would not receive a fair trial if he was extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual misconduct.

The hearing, scheduled to continue on Tuesday, was the culmination of an acrimonious public battle with prosecutors in Sweden who have sought since September to question Mr. Assange, 39, about accusations made against him in Stockholm last summer by two women who volunteered for WikiLeaks, one in her early 30s and another in her mid-20s. One contends that he initiated unprotected sex with her while she was asleep, the morning after she had taken him to her apartment for the night.

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 United States government and military documents and posting large numbers of them on the Internet.

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 Woolwich Crown Court amid a bleak landscape in southeast London, overlooked by Belmarsh prison, one of Britain’s largest maximum-security centers.

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 Sweden that he would be subjected to being extradited to the United States, followed by incarceration in the Guantánamo Bay detention center and that he might even face the death penalty. Although American officials have spent months reviewing the damage done by the leaks and considering possible criminal actions against Mr. Assange, he has not been indicted for making confidential documents public.

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 Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, argued that Sweden has a widely respected legal system with elaborate protections for defendants. She said Swedish prosecutors had taken great care in reviewing the evidence against Mr. Assange and had tried unsuccessfully to have him return for police questioning in Stockholm during five weeks he spent there before returning to Britain.

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 Sweden.

© 2011 The New York Times Company


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1 comment:

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall said...

The plot thickens, given the CIA connections (not of the women themselves but of the LAW FIRM representing the women – see OpEdNews article at http://tinyurl.com/4fo977u).

In addition the Swedish press is reporting that Karl Rove was involved. I’m sure people remember Karl Rove and all his dirty tricks against Bush’s opponents. I also strongly recommend people read the article translated from the Swedish in OpEdNews at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Rove-Suspected-In-Swedish-by-Andrew-Kreig-101219-292.html

In fact, the whole Wikileaks/feminist controversy is starting to smell like classic Cointelpro tactics to me. The use of identity politics to divide the progressive movement dates back to the 1960s civil rights movement. I write about my sad personal experiences with all this in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (www.stuartbramhall.com). I currently live in exile in New Zealand