Wikileaks founder fears execution in US if he is sent to Sweden
LONDON // Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, believes he could be taken to the US, put on trial and executed if he is extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations, a court in London was told yesterday.
At the start of a two-day extradition hearing, lawyers for the 39-year-old Australian took the unusual step of releasing a 74-page outline of the arguments they will use in the case, which is expected to conclude later today.
Because of some highly embarrassing disclosures on WikiLeaks from a quarter of a million secret US diplomatic cables in recent months, his lawyers fear that, if the Swedes are successful in extraditing him, they could "bow to US pressure" and send him on to Washington for trial under the Espionage Act, as some American politicians have been demanding.
"If Mr Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk he could be made subject to the death penalty, which is provided for in the Espionage Act," argued Geoffrey Robinson, his lead barrister.
"It is well-known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be executed."
His lawyers also revealed that they had asked the Australian government to request assurances from the Swedes that Mr Assange would not be removed from their country should he be returned there.
Amid hectic scenes at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, journalists from around the world laid siege to the south London courthouse to claim the 100 media seats available.
District Judge Howard Riddle is hearing the case and, at the conclusion of today's hearing, looks likely to reserve judgment until a later date.
Mr Assange faces allegations of sexually molesting one woman and of raping another during a week-long visit to Stockholm in August. He forcefully denies the claims and his supporters believe that the extradition request is politically motivated.
Mr Robertson told the court that there was also a risk of "trial by media" if Mr Assange were sent back to Stockholm, with some Swedish newspapers already branding him a coward for refusing to return voluntarily.
Pointing out that rape trials in Sweden were often held without the media or members of the public present, Mr Robertson added: "There's a danger this kind of media campaign, media vilification, will prejudice this secret trial.
"That's a compelling argument that there's a real risk of a flagrant violation of his rights.
"Given the amount of vilification throughout the world that Mr Assange has faced - he's been accused of being a coward and of vicious behaviour - it's obviously unfair he should be taken under this warrant and then ushered into a secret court and then convicted or even acquitted. Even if he's acquitted, the stigma will remain."
Mr Assange's legal team are also arguing that the European arrest warrant, under which he was detained in December, is invalid because he is only being asked to provide his account of events in Sweden, but has not yet been actually charged.
But Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish authorities, said he would automatically face charges of rape and sexual molestation under Swedish law, after the accusations of the two women.
On the question of whether Assange could be subsequently extradited to the US from Sweden, Ms Montgomery said that, if there were a threat of "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial", the European Court would intervene.
"In any event," she added, "the suggestion that somehow Sweden is to be regarded as a state that provides no protection against that sort of threat and violation appears to be unfounded."
Ms Montgomery said that the sexual molestation complaint was raised after he had consensual sex with one of the women without using a condom, despite her saying she would only consent if he wore one.
The other woman's claims implicitly suggested a lack of consent, she added. "Mr Assange, by using violence, forced Miss A to endure him restricting her freedom of movement, taking hold of her arms, forcefully spreading her legs and lying on top of her.
"Violently forcing yourself on someone and causing them to endure your lying on top of them can only be understood as violent, unlawful coercion, as action taken without consent."
Updated: February 8, 2011 04:00 AM