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Britain to Decide on Extradition Fate of WikiLeaks' Assange

May 14, 2019

Swedish prosecutors are reopening the rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange following a request from the lawyer of one of the alleged victims.

Assange was arrested last month in Ecuador's embassy in London, after the country reversed its decision to give him asylum. The 47-year-old Australian national is also wanted in the United States on hacking charges and the British government will now have to decide which extradition request should take priority.

In 2011, Assange was accused of rape by two women following a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm. He sought asylum in London's Ecuadorean embassy, claiming the accusations were part of a plot to have him extradited to the United States over his whistleblowing activities. With apparently little hope of conviction, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation in 2017.

In April, however, Ecuador reversed its decision to offer Assange asylum and allowed British authorities into the embassy to arrest him. One of the women who made the rape accusations requested the case be reopened.

Sweden's deputy director of public prosecution, Eva-Maria Persson, announced the reopening of the case Monday.

"After reviewing the preliminary investigation in its current state, my assessment is that there is still probable cause to suspect that Julian Assange committed rape," Persson said at a press conference in Stockholm.

Assange denies the rape accusations. In a statement, WikiLeaks said reopening the case would allow him to clear his name.

Sweden will seek a European arrest warrant and extradition after Assange has served a 50-week sentence in Britain for skipping bail.

The United States has also issued an extradition request for Assange over computer hacking accusations, related to the release of thousands of classified military and diplomatic communications via WikiLeaks, mainly relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Britain's Home Secretary will have to decide which extradition request should take precedence, says London-based extradition lawyer Anthony Hanretty.

"Whether it was hacking into computers or simply releasing information, against the allegations made in Sweden which are of the utmost severity. So it will come down politically to which one he thinks is more palatable for him to make."

Hanretty notes that Assange has already indicated he would contest any extradition to the United States.

"He no doubt will have fears that he will be held in solitary confinement in conditions which he will say will breach his human rights. There's also concern that if he is sent to the U.S., they will simply add further charges onto him once he is there. And it also depends on how the U.S. frames the charges against him. They will have to show that what he is accused of in the U.S. would amount to an offense in the U.K."

Under Swedish law, the statute of limitations on the rape case expires in August of next year, so legal experts say there is pressure on Britain and Sweden to speed up the extradition process.

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