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Assange's case to answer

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday February 28, 2011

There are many questionable aspects to Sweden's prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, for alleged offences under its highly elaborated law on sexual consent and assault. However Assange and his many supporters should now question themselves whether the dogged fight against extradition from Britain is warranted or productive. Shouldn't Assange face up to the consequences of his alleged conduct, if he wants governments to do the same?His camp's rhetoric is starting to look excessive. Assange himself asserted that the British judge's decision approving the extradition request was the "result of a European arrest warrant system run amok". His mother said it amounted to "political and legal gang rape" of her son. In fact, it just looks like a system working routinely between countries that have so far seemed to have quite compatible legal codes and standards of human rights.Judge Howard Riddle dismissed the argument that Assange's alleged actions would not qualify as rape in Britain and were therefore not extraditable. The allegation by one of the women involved, that Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep, knowing that she would not have consented to unprotected sex, would amount to rape under British law. There was no evidence the Swedish prosecutor was a radical feminist with a bias against men. A closed court, the Swedish practice in sexual assault cases, was not denial of justice.If the case does get to trial in Sweden, after appeals in Britain expected to take several months, the world will scrutinise proceedings very carefully, closed court or not. Sweden itself will be under trial.Various other defenders, including the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and the journalist John Pilger, have declared the sexual assault charges a charade anyway, to ease the further extradition to the United States for detention in Guantanamo Bay and a conviction under an antique espionage law that could bring the death penalty. But no evidence has emerged suggesting the Swedish case didn't arise spontaneously within its prosecutorial system, with or without a radical feminist agenda. Britain itself, like Australia, has been compliant with US extradition requests, including in financial and intellectual property cases where US law asserts extraterritorial jurisdiction. Would Sweden, with its long tradition of neutrality, be more or less likely to extradite on a US national security charge? In any case, no European country, Britain or Sweden, would extradite anyone to face a potential death penalty. This conspiratorial sideshow should perhaps be got over with, and attention diverted from Assange to the real alleged secrets-breaker, Private Bradley Manning.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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