Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, could be at “real risk” of the death penalty or detention in Guantánamo Bay if he is extradited to Sweden on accusations of rape and sexual assault, his lawyers claim.
In a skeleton summary of their defence against attempts by the Swedish director of public prosecutions to extradite him, released today, Assange’s legal team argue that there is a similar likelihood that the US would subsequently seek his extradition “and/or illegal rendition”, “where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere”.”Indeed, if Mr Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be executed.”
The 35-page skeleton argument was released by Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer, following a brief review hearing this morning at Belmarsh magistrates court.
The WikiLeaks founder, who is on conditional bail while his extradition case is being considered, appeared for no more than 15 minutes in the dock, while supporters including Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger looked on and waved support from the public gallery.
He later emerged to give a brief statement to a large number of reporters, saying: “Our work with WikiLeaks continues unabated. We are stepping up our publications for matters relating to Cablegate and other materials.
“These will shortly be available through our newspaper partners around the world – big and small newspapers and human rights organisations.”
The skeleton argument outlines seven points on which Assange’s lawyers will contest his extradition, which was sought by the Swedish DPP, Marianne Ny, following accusations from two women that he had sexually assaulted them in separate incidents in August.
One accusation, that Assange had sex with one of the women while she was asleep, would amount to rape under Swedish law if proven. Both women had previously had consenting sex with Assange.
The other points of argument include:
• That the European arrest warrant (EAW) is not valid, because Ny is not the authorised issuing authority, and it has been sought for an improper purpose – ie “simply in order to question him and without having yet reached a decision on whether or not to prosecute him”. This, they argue, would be in contravention of a well-established principle “that mere suspicion should not found a request for extradition”.
• That there has been “abuse of process” as Assange has not had full disclosure of all documents relating to the case, in particular text messages sent by one of the women, in which she allegedly said she was “half asleep” (ie not fully asleep) at the time they had sex, and messages between the two women in which they allegedly spoke of “revenge”.
• That the “conduct” of the Swedish prosecutor amounts to abuse of process. Assange’s lawyers cite the fact that the rape allegations were initially dismissed and then reopened by a second prosecutor, that the prosecutor has refused Assange’s offers of interview, and that it has not made documents available to Assange in English. They also cite the leak of part of the prosecution case to the Guardian as “a breach of Mr Assange’s fair trial and privacy rights”.
• That the alleged offences would not be considered crimes in the UK, and therefore, they argue, an EAW between the two countries would not be valid.
• That the extradition attempt is politically motivated, and that his trial would be prejudiced because of his political opinions or because, they argue, of his gender.
Assange’s team will make their case on 7 and 8 February, when Assange will return to court for the full extradition hearing. The case for his extradition is being argued by the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of the Swedish prosecutor; the full prosecution case is not expected to be released before that date.
District Judge Nicholas Evans agreed at this morning’s hearing to ease the terms of his bail conditions, which require Assange to wear an electronic tag and report daily to a police station close to the stately home on the Suffolk/Norfolk border where he is staying. For the nights of 6 and 7 February Assange will be permitted to stay in London.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2011