Wikileaks' Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden

Mr Assange says he will appeal against the ruling

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations, a judge has ruled.

At Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south London, District Judge Howard Riddle said the extradition would not breach Mr Assange's human rights.

Mr Assange said the ruling, which he will challenge, was due to a "European Arrest Warrant system run amok".

The 39-year-old denies three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape last August in Stockholm.

He believes the claims are politically motivated because of Wikileaks' publication of sensitive material - including leaked US diplomatic cables - from governments and high-profile organisations that has made headlines worldwide.

Mr Assange has been released on bail on the same terms he was granted in December.

Bail was granted then after he had spent nine days in Wandsworth prison in London following his arrest under a European Arrest Warrant on 7 December.

Following the extradition ruling on Thursday, Mr Assange said: "What we saw today at Belmarsh was a rubber-stamping process. It comes as no surprise, but is nonetheless wrong.

At the scene

Demonstrators outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court

Julian Assange looked calm as District Judge Howard Riddle read his conclusions. But he remains in limbo as his lawyers begin to construct an appeal. It's likely to be tough - the judge commented that the defence team had already "left no stone unturned".

The media circus that has surrounded this case continues, but fewer supporters turned out this morning compared with previous hearings. Some of those that did made themselves noticed by wearing orange jumpsuits and bearded Guy Fawkes masks as seen in the film V for Vendetta. They insist this case is politically motivated.

Daniel Gianstefani, 16, from Australia, said: "The authorities want him to be sent away to stop him embarrassing them because they are afraid of the truth."

The judge said he was confident Julian Assange was wanted in Sweden purely over sex assault allegations. His most critical comment toward the authorities was directed at Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whom he accused of "improper intervention".

"There was no consideration during this entire process as to the merits of the allegations made against me, no consideration or examination of even the complaints made in Sweden."

He added: "We have always known that in all likelihood we would have to appeal."

'Public enemy number one'

Judge Riddle dismissed the argument that Mr Assange would not receive a fair trial in Sweden that had been made by his lawyers during the two-and-a-half-day hearing earlier this month.

They had argued that criticism by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had made Mr Assange "public enemy number one" in Sweden.

But delivering his ruling on Thursday, the judge said: "The defence refer to the alleged denigration of the defendant by the Swedish prime minister.

"For this reason and other reasons it is said Mr Assange will not receive a fair trial. I don't accept this was the purpose of the comment or the effect."

Mr Assange's lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, had also argued that rape trials in Sweden were regularly "tried in secret behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice".

Clare Montgomery QC, for the Swedish authorities, told the hearing that evidence from a trial would be heard in private but the arguments would be made in public.

Judge Riddle said that did not mean the trial would be unfair or breach human rights.

Death penalty

Dismissing further arguments made by Mr Assange's lawyers, the judge found:

  • The allegations against Mr Assange were extradition offences
  • The prosecutor who issued the European Arrest Warrant for Mr Assange had been suitably qualified
  • The warrant was issued for the purpose of prosecution and not simply for questioning

During the hearing two weeks ago, Mr Robertson said his client could ultimately be extradited to the US on separate charges relating to Wikileaks - and could face the death penalty there.

In response, Ms Montgomery said Sweden provided "protection against that sort of threat and violation" taking place.

The European Court of Human Rights would intervene if Mr Assange was to face the prospect of "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial" in the US, she said.

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