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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared today in a London court to battle extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations. (Editor's note: An earlier version referred to "charges." Mr. Assange has not been charged.) The two-day hearing will call into question the legitimacy of a European Arrest Warrant that Swedish authorities issued for Mr. Assange.
However, Assange’s defense team is expected to argue against their client’s extradition on technical grounds, claiming that the 39-year-old Australian native is so far only wanted for questioning in Sweden. He hasn't been officially charged, which the lawyers argue makes the calls for extradition invalid. In addition, according to a BBC report, the defense is expected to argue that Assange could be questioned over the Internet or phone and doesn't need to be in Sweden.
Assange’s lawyers may also fight the extradition on humanitarian grounds. If Assange is extradited to Sweden, he could arguably be extradited to the United States, The Telegraph reported:
An outline of the defence case already published by his legal team states: “There is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere … there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty.”
Mr Assange’s lawyers will argue that extradition to Sweden would breach his human rights because Sweden has, in the past, extradited suspects to Egypt, which has been accused of torture.
Immediately after WikiLeaks began releasing some 250,000 classified US State Department cables in November 2010, American officials began calling for Assange’s arrest on national security grounds. US Attorney General Eric Holder has said he is looking at options for prosecuting Assange for the release of US secrets, the Monitor reported last December.
But Nils Rekke, head of the legal department at the Swedish prosecutor's office in Stockholm, rejected claims that Assange’s extradition to the US was possible, explaining that Sweden cannot send him to the US without approval from other countries, The Guardian reported.
"If Assange was handed over to Sweden in accordance with the European arrest warrant, Sweden cannot do as Sweden likes after that," Mr. Rekke said. "If there were any questions of an extradition approach from the US, then Sweden would have to get an approval from the United Kingdom."
Assange's appearance in front of Woolwich Crown Court this morning “sparked a media frenzy,” The Telegraph reported. The 100 seats in court reserved for media were taken weeks ago, and when Assange walked into court this morning, his supporters – “some of them dressed in orange Guantánamo Bay-style boiler suits – cheered and waved anti-American placards.”
Assange has denied the allegations of sexual abuse that were brought against him by two Swedish women last August. He was held in a London jail in early December and released on bail one week later. Since then, Assange has given multiple interviews to the media and reportedly signing a $1.3 million book deal for his autobiography.