Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Image by New Media Days via FlickrJulian Assange extradition attempt an uphill struggle, says specialist | Media | The Guardian
A former extradition specialist for the Crown Prosecution Service today predicted it would be "very difficult" for Sweden to get the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, sent back to face sexual assault allegations.
Raj Joshi, a former head of the European and International Division at the CPS, said Sweden's lack of a formal criminal charge against Assange increased his lawyers' chances of success in blocking the extradition attempt.
Assange's lawyers are scheduled to visit him tomorrow in prison for the first time since he was jailed on remand yesterday after Sweden requested his extradition.
Swedish prosecutors say they want to interview Assange about allegations of sexual assault against two women. His lawyers say they fear the US will attempt to extradite him to face charges over the release of hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables though Washington has not so far taken any legal action against him.
Today, a British group campaigning for more rapists to be punished questioned the "unusual zeal" with which Assange, an Australian citizen, was being pursued over the allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.
In a letter to the Guardian, Katrin Axelsson from Women Against Rape said it was routine for people charged with rape in the UK to be granted bail. Assange is yet to be formally charged by the Swedes. Axelsson also said Sweden had a poor record bringing rapists to justice: "Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations … There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety."
Assange is due to appear before City of Westminster magistrates's court next Tuesday where his lawyers will attempt to secure his release on bail, a request the court rejected this week.
Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan police's extradition squad on a European arrest warrant issued at the request of Sweden. But Joshi, who headed the CPS's international division for five years, said Sweden faced an uphill battle.
"On what we know so far, it is going to be very difficult to extradite. The judge has to be satisfied that the conduct equals an extraditable offence and that there are no legal bars to extradition.
"Assange's team will argue, how can the conduct equal an extraditable offence if the [Swedish] prosecutor doesn't think there is enough evidence to charge, and still has not charged."
Joshi said other bars to extradition would be Assange's rights under the European human rights legislation.
Assange is being held in Wandsworth prison, south London, where he has limited communication with the outside world. He has no internet access and today was allowed one three minute telephone conversation with his solicitors.
WikiLeaks volunteers today sent him a parcel containing clothes, letters of support, toiletries and a selection of books including one by his barrister Geoffrey Robertson.
Amid suggestions that the US is examining ways to take legal action against Assange, one of his lawyers, Mark Stephens, repeated his claims that Sweden's actions were politically motivated, perhaps as a stalling tactic while the Americans bring a charge: "If there are talks between Sweden and the US for his rendition, we have every reason to be concerned."