British high court rules Assange arrest warrant valid

Julian Assange, October 2011

After months of legal drama, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is much closer to being extradited to Sweden to face sex crime charges: Britain’s High Court has ruled that the Sweden arrest warrant for Assange was both issued and executed correctly. In a bid to avoid extradition, Assange’s lawyers had been arguing that the Swedish prosecutor seeking the extradition was not a “judicial authority” under the law, and therefore had no authority to issue a European arrest warrant. The High Court dismissed that argument, finding that the warrant was valid, while allowing European member states must exercise due “scrutiny” on surrender requests from other states.

Assange’s legal team did not have a response to the high court’s ruling, which seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to the court. According to media reports, Assange’s legal team had received a copy of the ruling late last week, and were widely expected to immediate file for permission to take the case to Britain’s supreme court. Assange’s team has up to 14 days to make such a filing, however.

Assange also argued that he has not been accused of any offense in Sweden. The Swedish arrest warrant merely allows Assange to be questioned over sex crime allegations. To date, Assange has not been charged with any crime in the case.

Julian Assange has been under effective house arrest since last December when he was granted bail on the condition he surrender his passport, report to police, comply with a curfew, and wear an electronic monitoring device. Assange has largely been staying in a 10-bedroom mansion of a supporter in a 600-acre estate northeast of London.

Allegations against Assange stem from two separate sexual encounters in Stockholm in August 2010; both women claim Assange refused requests to use a condom. One of the women accuses Assange of having sex with her while she was asleep, and one of the women says Assange pinned her down with his body weight during sex. Assange has argued the sex as consensual and that the allegations, even if true, would not constitute crimes under British law. However, Sweden’s sexual assault laws have a broader scope than Britain’s.

Wikileaks supporters have argued the charges are politically motivated, landing on the heels of Wikileaks disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables, including many details that have proven embarrassing to U.S. and European leaders. Some have posited the extradition to Sweden is merely a pretext for moving Assange to the United States to face charges.

Wikileaks’ disclosure of classified documents has also led to U.S.-tied payment providers (such as MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and Amazon) cutting off financial services for Wikileaks. Their actions prompted cyberattacks from Anonymous and other “hacktivist” groups, but the financial blockade seems to have been effective: Assange recently issued a plea for support, and Wikileaks has turned all its attention to raising money.

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