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ASSANGE RULING February 24, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Human Rights.
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The judge has given his ruling that Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

The ruling will be appealed, and if unsuccessful Assange would be extradited to Sweden within ten days. Esther Addley and Alexandra Topping writing in the Guardian report:

Delivering his ruling at a hearing at Belmarsh magistrates court in London, the chief magistrate Howard Riddle systematically dismissed each of the defence’s arguments against Assange’s extradition.

Assange’s legal team had disputed that Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, had the authority to issue a European arrest warrant, but the judge ruled that she did possess this authority and the warrant issued was valid.

Ny’s credibility had been questioned by the defence team, but the judge dismissed those doubts which he said amounted “to very little”. The retired judge who criticised her, Brita Sundberg-Weitman, had no first-hand knowledge and no evidence as to source of her opinion, he said.

The defence had also argued that the allegations against Assange were not offences in English law and therefore not extraditable. But the judge said the three alleged offences against Miss A, sexual assault and molestation, met the criteria for extradition offences and a fourth against Miss B, an allegation of rape, “would amount to rape” in this country.

In his summary the judge also accused Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Björn Hurtig, of making a deliberate attempt to mislead the court. He added that Assange had clearly attempted to avoid the Swedish justice system before he left the country, saying “It would be a reasonable assumption from the facts that Mr Assange was deliberately avoiding interrogation before he left Sweden.”

While Riddle acknowledged that there had been “considerable adverse publicity against Mr Assange in Sweden”, including from the prime minister, if there had been any irregularities in the Swedish system, the best place to examine them in a Swedish trial, he said.

According to The Independent, the Judge also rejected the proposition that comments made by the Swedish PM would be prejudicial to his receiving a fair trial, although based on this report this appears to be a statement of opinion rather than fact. The actual comments of the Swedish PM were included in an earlier account of the hearings.

The BBC notes:

During the hearing two weeks ago, Mr Assange’s lawyer argued that rape trials in Sweden were regularly “tried in secret behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice”.

Geoffrey Robertson QC also said his client could later be extradited to the US on separate charges relating to Wikileaks, and could face the death penalty there.

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.

In response to the suggested risk of extradition to the US and a possible death penalty, she 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.

In relation to the European Arrest Warrants, The Guardian reported observed:

EAWs were introduced in 2003 with the aim of making extradition swifter and easier between European member states. But campaigners have raised concerns about the application of the warrants, arguing that they are sometimes applied before a case is ready to prosecute, and that while they were originally intended to counter terrorism, their use has greatly increased. Seven hundred people were extradited from the UK under the system last year.

There are some strange aspects of this case, not least the publishing of the allegations by a Swedish newspaper. Why was it not possible to take the evidence and complete the investigation in England, then presumably the extradition would have been more straightforward?

Julian Assange made a public statement carried by the BBC – before it was interrupted by Muammar Gaddafi. Assange was critical of the EAW process, arguing the judge was constrained by the information contained in what he described as two pages.

Unfortunately, the editors at the BBC turned over to Gaddafi’s speech.

ELSEWHERE:

Kelly Fiveash as The Register records Assange’s post court statement:

Belmarsh was a rubber stamping process. It comes as no surprise but is nevertheless wrong. It comes as the result of a European arrest warrant system run amok.
There was no consideration of the allegations made against me. No consideration of the complaints against me in Sweden.

We have always known we would appeal. We have always known in all likelihood we would have to appeal. Ninety five percent of all European arrest warrants are successful.

What does the United States have to do with a Swedish Extradition process?

It has been falsely stated that I said the CIA or Pentagon was involved in the initial allegation. I have never said that. I have never said who was behind those allegations, simply that they were untrue.

Why is it that I am subject – a non-profit free speech activist – that I am subject to a $300,000 bail, that I am subject to house arrest when I have never been charged in any country?

The scrutiny of the European arrest warrant system needs to begin now, it cannot be the case that filling two pages with someone’s name and a suspicion – not a charge – can lead to their extradition to one of 26 European nations.

Three people a day are being extradited from the UK under a rubber stamp process.

Julian Assange can be heard here via BBC.

Binoy Kampmark at CounterPunch observes:

There are indeed very troubling points with the case. One salient point is that no charges have actually even been filed. In the second instance, there is nothing stopping the Swedish authorities conducting their own interrogations in Britain. The British authorities are bound to be accommodating in this regard.

And further notes:

Assange did not do himself any favors by leaving the country in the first place. His departure played heavily on the judge’s mind. But the next stage of the process seems a bit unnecessary, given the means open to those in Stockholm. The legal saga is set to continue, with an appeal process to be undertaken to see if the extradition order can be reversed. Assange has become a figure, not merely in the debate on abolishing state secrets, but in the matter of law reform in Sweden.

What evidence is there that this process has been set up to damage Wikileaks? And who would benefit from that? Is it not interesting that in the adherence to due process, Assange’s natural justice rights, supposing the case he was guilty as alleged, but not charged, are being ignored? Whatever happened to the rule of law? This is not helped by leaks to newspapers, which according to the Swedes is fair enough, or by journalists exercising a vendetta against Assange on the basis of free speech. When it came to Assange no newspaper directly involved, it seems, insisted on redactions.

On the other hand, I can understand why the court might be closed when hearing witness testimony to protect the victims of crime. However I find it difficult to understand why an arrest warrant would be issued without charges, or at the very least why both sides of the story had not been heard? The whole process seems shot through with problems and that of itself does not serve the purpose of justice which should be paramount.

At Crikey, Guy Rundle suggests that the trial in camera will be the basis for the appeal. This aspect of Swedish law is not recent. The Assange trial will now move to the UK Supreme Court, a new institution, before moving over to Sweden and into a closed court.

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