The decision was the latest chapter in a months-long legal battle that has seen Assange under house arrest and WikiLeaks temporarily shuttered. In their ruling, two British appeals judges said a European arrest warrant seeking Assange’s extradition could not “be said to be disproportionate” since it related to “serious sexual offences,” which Assange has denied.
A British judge had previously ruled that Assange should return to Sweden to face allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape made by two WikiLeaks volunteers in Stockholm in August 2010. Wednesday’s ruling came after an appeal by Assange, who has engaged a series of high-profile lawyers to fight the extradition warrant. “We will consider our next steps in the coming days,” Assange said in a brief statement to the throng of reporters gathered outside the courtroom. Stressing that he “has not been charged with any crime,” Assange lamented that the terms of the arrest warrant do not allow him to argue extradition based on the substance of the case, which rests on accusations by two women that consensual encounters with Assange became nonconsensual.
He was hugged and kissed by a female supporter after the hearing while outside banners fixed to the court railings proclaimed him to be a casualty of war and truth.
WikiLeaks’ release of hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and classified State Department diplomatic cables dominated the front pages of newspapers across the world, including The New York Times, last year. Assange placed himself at the forefront of those releases, he told reporters, as a means of seeking publicity for documents he hoped would reshape the very nature of government.
But since Assange was briefly jailed last December, before being released on bail and placed under house arrest at the country mansion of a wealthy friend in eastern England, WikiLeaks has floundered. He told a press conference in London last month that it would cease its publishing activities because it lacked money following a blockade on donations to WikiLeaks by credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard, and the payments services Western Union and PayPal.
As his legal battles spanned half a dozen court appearances, across three courthouses, Assange has given dozens of interviews with the rolling country estate as a backdrop. He has condemned Sweden’s strict sexual crimes laws, calling the country “the Saudi Arabia of feminism” and compared himself to the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
He has told friends that he refused to return to Stockholm to face questioning because he fears that the country is run by a small cabal of interconnected people who are aligned against him. He believes he is on trial, he has said, for an alleged affront to all Swedish women, and that court proceedings will thus be tainted.
Assange appeared for an initial interview with police in Sweden in 2010, but fled to London before further questioning could be completed, a court here was subsequently told. RAVI SOMAIYA