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WikiLeaks' Assange back in UK court
Fighting extradition to Sweden, WikiLeaks founder returns to court for a procedural move to set date for a full hearing.
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2011 10:09 GMT
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been under 'hi-tech house arrest' since being granted bail by UK court [Reuters]

WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange has re-appeared in a London court as lawyers draw the battle lines in his fight to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes.

The mainly procedural hearing was scheduled on Tuesday at the Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London.

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the court in London, said that this hearing will possibly confirm the date for a full extradition hearing which is expected in early February.

The 39-year-old Australian computer expert, who has infuriated Washington by releasing details of secret US diplomatic cables on his website, has protested his innocence over claims of sexual misconduct against two women.

"The hearing on Tuesday is to ensure that the real issues in the case are identified and that preparation of the case is progressing in a timely fashion," a spokesman for Britain's courts service said.

Arrest warrant

It will also decide elements of the legal process, such as which documents the prosecutors and defence lawyers should provide and whether any witnesses should be called up.

British police arrested Assange last month on a European warrant issued by Sweden following allegations made by two WikiLeaks' volunteers.

Court documents filed by the Swedish prosecutor said that Assange was suspected of raping and sexually molesting one woman and unlawfully coercing a second.

According to his lawyer, the allegations stem from a dispute over "consensual but unprotected sex".  Assange has denied the accusations.

An international arrest warrant was issued at the end of November, but Sweden had to reissue it during December due to a procedural error that prevented him from being arrested in Britain.

Swedish law allows for an extradition order "for a person who is suspected of an offence in Sweden".

'House arrest'

After spending nine days in a UK jail, he was released on bail on December 16 after his supporters raised a surety of $312,000.

As part of his bail conditions, Assange must stay at a mansion in eastern England, abide by a curfew, report to police daily and wear an electronic tag. Assange has described the curbs on him as "hi-tech house arrest".

Protests were scheduled to coincide with the hearing at London's high-security court.

Earlier on Tuesday, Assange released a statement calling for the prosecution of those in the United States who have called for him to be put to death.

Assange drew parallels between the rhetoric that some have blamed for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in the US and that directed at himself and staff working on the whistle-blowing website.

"No organisation anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech than WikiLeaks but when senior politicians and attention-seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed, they should be charged with incitement to murder," Assange said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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