WikiLeaks Founder Loses Appeal in Extradition Hearing

Julian Assange and his lawyer Jennifer Robinson arrive for his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London earlier this year. Matt Dunham/AP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange must return to Sweden to face sex-crime allegations in that country, according to an appeals court in the United Kingdom that ruled on his extradition case Wednesday.

Assange was appealing a lower court ruling last February. He will not be immediately extradited, however, and will remain in the UK at least until later this month when he will learn if he can appeal to the Supreme Court.

Assange has not yet been charged with any crimes but is being sought for questioning in Sweden on rape and coercion allegations stemming from sexual relations he had with two women in that country in August 2010. One woman has claimed that Assange pinned her down to have sex with her and intentionally tore a condom he wore. The second woman claims that he had sex with her while she was initially asleep, failing to wear a condom despite repeated requests for him to do so. Assange has disputed their claims.

Assange was arrested in Britain last December, just nine days after WikiLeaks began publishing from its cache of more than 250,000 leaked U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, which were trickling out at a rate of about a hundred a day. Nine days after that, Assange was released from jail on $300,000 bond.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the sex in both cases was consensual.

In its 43-page ruling (.pdf), however, the high court notes that in the case of the second woman, “it is difficult to see how a person could reasonably have believed in consent if the complainant alleges a state of sleep or half-sleep” and that given that the woman had insisted on Assange wearing a condom, “consent would not have been given without a condom.”

Assange has been living under house arrest in the large country estate of Vaughan Smith, whom The Guardian has described as “a former army officer, journalist adventurer and right-wing libertarian.” After the court’s earlier ruling, Assange was allowed to remain free on bond, reporting to police every evening in person and honoring a curfew, while he awaited the outcome of his appeal.

Defense attorneys have claimed that Assange would not get a fair trial in Sweden, because rape trials in that country are sometimes held behind closed doors. They have also argued that Assange could somehow find himself extradited to the United States, where, they theorize, he could face execution for leaking secrets.

In the initial ruling earlier this year, Judge Howard Riddle avoided addressing the larger ramifications of the Assange situation and focused on the defendant’s ability to withstand proceedings in Sweden.

“I have specifically considered whether the physical or mental condition of the defendant is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him,” Riddle told London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court. “I am satisfied that extradition is compatible with the defendant’s [European] Convention rights; I must order Mr. Assange be extradited to Sweden.”