By Karla Adam, Wednesday, May 30
Assange — who shot to international fame when his anti-secrecy Web site spilled official state secrets in the form of Afghanistan and Iraq military reports and a mammoth cache of diplomatic cables — did not appear in court on Wednesday. His lawyers told reporters he was stuck in traffic.
Swedish authorities want to question Assange — no charges have been laid — about separate encounters he had with two WikiLeaks volunteers. The volunteers say they had consensual sex with Assange, but at some stage, it became non-consensual. One of the women, described in the courts here as “Miss B,” accused Assange of having unwanted sex with her while she was asleep.
Although Assange insists the sex was consensual, his case before the Supreme Court hinged on a single technicality: Was the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European arrest warrant that led to his arrest in December 2010 a valid judicial authority?
Only a “competent judicial authority” can issue a European arrest warrant, a system ushered in to speed up extradition between European nations.
In a 161-page judgment, the Supreme Court haggles over what, exactly, is meant by the words “judicial authority,” ultimately rejecting Assange’s arguments that a public prosecutor cannot fall into the category.
Although the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest appellate court for civil cases, Assange has not yet exhausted all of his legal options.
Assange can still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which would decide within two weeks whether or not to take the case. If that court declined to take the case, Assange would be extradited to Sweden “as soon as arrangements can be made,” according to a statement by the Crown Prosecution Service. If the European court accepts the case, analysts say, the long-running legal battle could drag on for more weeks or months.
In February 2011, a lower court in Britain granted Sweden’s extradition request. Assange appealed the ruling and lost, but he won permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case before seven judges — two more than normal — because, the court said, of the “great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority.”
Assange’s attorneys have argued that the allegations lodged against him are politically motivated and said they fear Swedish authorities might hand him over to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act for leaking State Department diplomatic cables.
Over the next two weeks, Assange will remain in Britain under his current bail terms, which include wearing an electronic tag around his ankle and checking in daily with local police.
Such is the worldwide interest in the case that the Supreme Court issued a statement last week encouraging visitors who were not attending the Assange judgment to “choose another day to visit the building.”