Tue, Feb 08, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Assange entourage heads to UK extradition hearing

AP, LONDON

WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange and his entourage of lawyers, supporters, protesters and journalists were back in a London court yesterday for a showdown between the secret-spilling computer hacker and Swedish authorities who want him extradited to face sex crimes allegations.

A two-day hearing will decide Assange’s legal fate. It will also keep the spotlight away from WikiLeaks’ revelations and on its opinion-dividing editor-in-chief.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year. At Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court, a high-security judicial outpost beside a prison, defense lawyers were set to argue that he should not be extradited because he has not been charged with a crime, because of flaws in Swedish prosecutors’ case — and because a ticket to Sweden could land him in Guantanamo Bay or on US death row.

US officials are trying to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks, which has angered Washington by publishing a trove of leaked diplomatic cables and secret US military files. Assange’s lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated.

Preliminary defense arguments released by Assange’s legal team claim “there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.”

Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to jurisdictions where they might face execution.

Nils Rekke, head of the legal department at the Swedish prosecutor’s office in Stockholm, said Assange would be protected from transfer to the US by strict European rules.

Assange’s lawyers will also battle extradition on the ground that he has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is only wanted for questioning.

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