Pressure mounts to send Assange to Sweden
More than 70 British lawmakers have urged the government to make sure that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces Swedish justice if prosecutors there reopen a rape allegation against him.
The lawmakers signed a letter late Friday urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to “do everything you can to champion action that will ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden makes an extradition request”.
Sweden suspended its investigation into possible serious sexual misconduct against Assange two years ago because he was beyond their reach while he was living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London with political asylum status.
He was arrested Thursday after Ecuador withdrew his asylum. Assange is now in Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, waiting to be sentenced for jumping bail in Britain and facing an extradition request from the United States on charges of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
WikiLeaks says that he will fight the US extradition request and has been meeting with his legal team to plan his defence.
If Britain receives competing extradition requests, lawyers say the home secretary would have some leeway in deciding which takes priority. Considerations usually include which request came first and which alleged crime is more serious.
Most of the lawmakers who signed the letter are from the opposition Labour Party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants Britain to refuse to send Assange to the US. After Assange’s arrest, Corbyn praised him for exposing US atrocities committed in Iraq and Afghanistan when WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of confidential US documents in 2010.
Some Conservative Party members are also backing the move. Prominent lawmaker Alistair Burt, a former Foreign Office minister, said the “minimising of the issues in relation to sexual assault are really quite disturbing”.
He said the testimony of the women who have been involved makes it “essential” that Assange face justice, to either be cleared or convicted.
British politicians are free to lobby the government for a certain course of action, but it is up to the courts to decide whether the US request for Assange’s extradition — and a possible future request from Sweden — should be honoured.
The Home Secretary, a senior Cabinet official, has some leeway to block extradition under certain specific circumstances, including cases where a person facing extradition might face capital punishment or torture in that country.
Assange, 47, has denied the sexual misconduct allegations, which he claims are politically motivated. He has not had a chance to enter a plea in response to the US charge, but he has claimed that all of his WikiLeaks actions are those of a legitimate journalist.