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WikiLeaks' Assange begins final British appeal against extradition

February 1, 2012 |  8:00 am

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website, began  his final stand in Britain on Wednesday against efforts to extradite him to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct and rape.

The 40-year-old Australian looked calm, relaxed and attentive as the two-day hearing got underway in the 19th century wood-paneled courtroom, the final British appeal against a European arrest warrant issued by a Swedish prosecutor in November 2010.

Assange is challenging a court ruling last February authorizing his extradition. His appeal was dismissed by the British High Court in November, but he won the right to further review before the Supreme Court on the technical grounds that a Swedish prosecutor does not hold authority to issue a European arrest warrant.

Defense lawyer Dinah Rose addressed a panel of seven senior judges, laying out detailed arguments defining “the benchmark” of her defense: that the judicial authority that issues a European arrest warrant must be “independent of the executive and of parties. The Swedish prosecutor is a party and cannot be an authority.

"No one may be a judge in their own case,” she argued. 

Rose launched a detailed examination of the language and context of the European arrest warrant, which was instituted in 2003 to more effectively enable European Union countries to prosecute criminals moving around in the alliance's territory, with its disparate legal systems. She laid out her arguments that “the executing judicial authority must be an independent judge.”

Assange was arrested in London in 2010 shortly after arriving there from Sweden, where two women had lodged complaints against him of sexual molestation and rape during an August 2010 visit.    

He is also under investigation in the United States on suspicion of disseminating classified diplomatic and state documents on WikiLeaks, revealing inside information affecting governments around the world.  U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is facing charges related to the WikiLeaks release, and Assange and his supporters fear he would be extradited from Sweden to the U.S. to face charges.

Should the court rule in favor of extraditing Assange, who is currently free on bail, he would have a last right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. It would have to give its decision on whether to take on his case within 14 days.

On Thursday, the British court will hear arguments from the Crown Prosecution Service acting for the Swedish Judicial Authority. The seven judges are not expected to reach a verdict for several weeks.


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 - -Janet Stobart

Photo: Julian Assange, center, the founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website, arrives with his legal team at the Supreme Court in London on Wednesday. Credit: Oli Scarff / Getty Images