UK to extradite Assange

Julian Assange has lost his bid to remain in the UK to avoid questioning in an investigation into possible rape charges in Sweden:

A U.K. court ordered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be extradited to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault allegations, dealing a serious blow to the document-leaking site and its founder.

The decision ensures that Mr. Assange’s efforts to build and promote WikiLeaks will be to some degree detoured in coming months by the possibility that he will face criminal sex charges. The allegations against him come as WikiLeaks has gained notoriety with governments around the world because of its release of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables.

Sweden has not formally charged Mr. Assange with a crime, but wants to question him over allegations that he raped one woman and molested another during a visit to Stockholm last August. He denies any wrongdoing. Mr. Assange’s lawyers have seven days to appeal the U.K. court’s decision. They have said they plan to appeal.

In one sense, this was predictable.  Sweden and the UK have strong ties and reciprocity on extraditions.  Prosecutors have what amounts to a material-witness warrant for Assange’s detention, and it seemed unlikely that a British court would refuse to honor it.

On the other hand, though, the court could have taken a middle position on the request by making Assange available for questioning.  Sweden hasn’t actually filed charges against Assange, nor have they committed to doing so.  They want Assange for extended questioning, but aside from cost, there isn’t anything preventing Sweden from coming to the UK to conduct their interrogation.  Given the circumstances of the allegations, there is at least a fair chance that the case won’t survive a court challenge, given the ambiguity of consent in the alleged incidents.

Assange didn’t help matters by fleeing Sweden to avoid questioning, the basis of the court’s decision.  Nor has he made himself a sympathetic figure in diplomatic circles with his last round of releases of US State Department cables.  Few will worry about Assange’s fate, but one has to wonder why Sweden pursued extradition first over local interrogation, which would have cost them less money and time for a case that may well never make it into court.

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