by Kristina Chew
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has lost his extradition appeal to the UK Supreme Court and could now face deportation to Sweden on allegations of sexual abuse brought by two Swedish women. His lawyers have been granted two additional weeks to submit fresh arguments as to whether they want to take issue with a central point of the judgement or to challenge the correct interpretation of international treaties — of, specifically, Article 31.3 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Assange, who has been on conditional bail and subjected to electronic monitoring, curfew and regular reports to local police, was not himself present for the decision due to being “stuck in traffic” according to his lawyer. Assange tweeted “We got the news not hoped for” after learning of the decision, says the BBC.
The 40-year-old Australian is charged with raping one woman and “sexually molesting and coercing” another in Stockholm and a nearby town in August 2010, when Wikileaks was in the midst of releasing a vast trove of classified United States military and diplomatic documents. The women, who were both Wikileaks volunteers, both made complaints that what had been consensual encounters became non-consensual. Assange was present for an initial interview with Swedish police than fled to London,prior to further questioning could be completed. Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for him, leading to him being briefly imprisoned in December 2010.
Assange has insisted on his innocence and his lawyers have spoken of a “honey trap” set for him, to prevent him from releasing more documents on Wikileaks. Assange has railed against Sweden as a “Saudi Arabia of feminism.” His legal battle has been going on for 18 months.
Britain’s highest court ruled by a vote of 5 to 2 to reject Assange’s appeal for extradition. The judgement hinged on whether the Swedish authority who issued the extradition order had the “judicial authority” to do so under the 2003 Extradition Act or whether that power was granted only to a judge or a court, says the BBC. Judge Nicholas Phillips, the president of the court, said that the decision “has not been easy to resolve” but was “lawfully made.” Assange’s lawyers are honing in on a “fine point of European law” in appealing the court’s ruling, namely that the judgement was “based on a point which was neither heard nor argued in the case,” says the BBC’s Dominic Casciani.
As the New York Times observes, this new delay in Assange’s extradition case pushes back “indefinitely” any attempts by the US to extradite Assange on charges for his role in Wikileaks’ release of classified US diplomatic and military documents.
The NYT says that there have been “frequent but unconfirmed reports … that a secret grand jury hearing in Alexandria, Va.” is preparing a US Justice Department bid to charge Assange with espionage. A 4-page Wikileaks statement, issued some 12 hours before the British Supreme Court’s ruling, has “depicted the decision in London as a prelude to a much grimmer challenge awaiting” Assange than the sex abuse charges in Sweden. If convicted of the latter, Swedish lawyers say that he faces a stiff fine or, at most, a brief prison term. If convicted of espionage in the US, he could face a life sentence in a maximum-security prison.
Bradley Manning, the US army private charged with leaking massive amount of classified government information to Wikileaks, is seeking dismissal of 10 of the 22 counts he faces. Manning, who is currently being held in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, contends that eight of the counts are unconstitutionally vague and that two others fail to state a prosecutable offense. He faces life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge. On June 6, a military judge will hear pre-trial arguments in Fort Meade, Md.; Manning faces a full court-martial in September. A Guardian interview with his aunt, who has been visiting him frequently, says that Manning is “keeping himself in a relatively positive state of mind, buoyed by trust in his lawyers and the support of close family and backers from around the world.”