Q&A: Assange faces extradition

As a British court sets an extradition hearing for Julian Assange, Al Jazeera examines the possible outcomes.

Julian Assange was detained in London on Tuesday under a European arrest warrant issued by Sweden  [AFP]

Why was Julian Assange arrested?

The WikiLeaks founder was remanded in custody in London on Tuesday after being arrested under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system for his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

Court documents filed by the Swedish prosecutor say Assange is 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 last week due to a procedural error that prevented him from being arrested in Britain.

How likely is it that Julian Assange could face extradition from Britain to Sweden in the coming weeks?

According to Mark Ellis, the executive director at the International Bar Association, the 39-year-old Australian could be extradited within a matter of weeks.

“This is between two European states so it comes under a process that all European countries have agreed to. There are parameters that have to be met, but they are fairly straightforward,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Generally the extradition process is done within 21 days of his appearance, and that process has already started with the date of a December 14 hearing being set today. I don’t expect this to be a long drawn out process,” he said.

Khawar Qureshi, a Queen’s Counsel and international law specialist, said that under European agreements, British courts are not entitled to look at evidence against Assange in making their decision to extradite him.

Instead their role is to simply check that paperwork is in order.

“The British judge has to satisfy himself that the European arrest warrant in form is correct, that it refers to an offence that falls within the ambit of a European arrest warrant, and that there are no reasons against extradition, for example that he would not get a fair trial or there is a serious denial of justice,” he said.

Ellis said it would be a “challenging task” for Assange and his legal team to counter the extradition request from Sweden.

“[Assange] would have to argue that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial, that his rights have been violated, or perhaps that this is a politically motivated step.

“I think these are difficult claims to make given that Sweden has a credible and well-regarded legal system.”

Does being an Australian citizen impact his position at all?

Assange is said to have had help from the Australian High Commission in fighting his case in court on Tuesday.

But his lawyer, Mark Stephens, attacked the Australian government on Monday for failing to help his client, leading him to question the value of an Australian passport.

“One would think that having an Australian passport you would get some assistance but thus far, I have to say, the high commissions and embassies have been shutting their doors to Julian Assange,” Mark Stephens told ABC radio.

Some commentators have also suggested that Assange would be in a better position to fight extradition if he were a British citizen, suggesting that he would be offered greater protection.

But according to Ellis, being an Australian will not affect Assange’s possible extradition from Britain to Sweden.

“The Australian government is not really the main player here. The main players are Sweden and Britain,” he said.

How likely is it that Assange could be extradited to the US from Sweden?

There is some speculation that the US could attempt to extradite Assange on charges that he has breached the country’s espionage laws.

But according to Ellis, there are a number of major hurdles that would significantly string out any possible extradition process between Sweden and the US.

“The conditions are much more complicated [than those between Britain and Sweden].

“There will be issues such as can the US prove a prima facie case against Assange, and is the US law he’s alleged to have violated similar to a violation that he could be charged with in Sweden, under a term known as dual criminality.

“They would also have to consider the penalty he could face in the US – Sweden would never extradite a person to a country that could use the death penalty against them, and in an espionage case there are provisions that mean the US could impose the death penalty.

“They would also have to consider whether his human rights could be affected.”

He said that Sweden would also have to be convinced that there was no political motivation in requesting his extradition, which is something not under consideration in the current case between Britain and Sweden, a case Ellis said is purely judicial.

However he said despite the obstacles to extradition to the US, “there could be a legal basis for that to happen”.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he could be extradited.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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