LONDON -- Julian Assange is back in court Monday to combat his extradition to Sweden. It is the first part of a two-day hearing for the WikiLeaks founder that concludes tomorrow.
Assange, who faces allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, has been held under house arrest
in Britain since late December. He is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion made by two women in August. He denies the charges.
Assange's lawyers are combating extradition on both technical and political grounds. On the technical end, they maintain that the arrest warrant issued by Sweden was handled improperly
. According to the lawyers, the warrant was issued for the wrong reasons (it seeks to question Assange rather than prosecute him) and by the wrong body (a prosecutor rather than the Swedish National Police Board).
On the political end, his lawyers are arguing that the lack of public or press access to Swedish rape trials means Assange would be denied a fair trial
. They further maintain that Assange has already been a victim of "illegal and corrupt" behavior by the Swedish authorities, both for releasing his name to the press in a possible rape case and for not agreeing to interview him (via Skype) when he offered.
There is also a human rights concern that, if extradited to Sweden
, Assange will be in turn be extradited and/or illegally rendered to the United States for his role in leaking secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Once there, they fear that he could potentially face the death penalty.
Finally, the defense also maintains that the sexual acts involving Assange and the two women do not constitute "rape" under British law
and are therefore not extraditable offenses.
The prosecution (representing the Crown on behalf of the Swedish government) has already challenged several of the defense's key arguments. At the hearing Monday morning, the lead prosecutor said the warrant brought against Assange "clearly denotes a sufficient intention to prosecute" and the fact that questioning may be required does not undermine its main purpose.
The prosecution maintains that both the alleged rape and three counts of sexual assault occurred without consent and thus constitute offenses under English law.
The European Arrest Warrant Scheme was designed in the aftermath of 9/11
to promote cooperation between prosecuting authorities across Europe so as to expedite simple extradition processes involving member states. Grounds for refusing a request are limited, mainly based on whether extradition would violate a suspect's human rights or whether the arrest warrant was drawn up incorrectly -- both of which are potentially in play here.
English courts have stopped extradition in the past on grounds of political motivation. For example, in a number of cases involving requests by Russia for the extradition of Russian nationals, the courts have found the warrants to be politically motivated.
The Assange hearing continues on Tuesday. If the court decides against him, he can appeal -- a process that could drag on for months.
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