Julian Assange in bid to block extradition
Tuesday 12 July 2011
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today launched his High Court bid to block "unfair and unlawful" attempts to extradite him to Sweden to face sexual misconduct allegations.
Lawyers for Assange, 40, are challenging a ruling by District Judge Howard Riddle at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south London that extradition should go ahead.
A European arrest warrant (EAW) which led to Assange's arrest contained "fundamental misstatements" of what had occurred in Stockholm last August, while he was in Sweden to give a lecture, his QC Ben Emmerson told two judges.
Assange's encounters with two women who had made complaints involved consensual sex and would not be considered crimes in England, said the QC.
In a case which has drawn international interest, he described Assange as the victim of a "philosophical and judicial mismatch" between English and Swedish law on what constituted sex crimes.
The EAW was misleading in its accusations that he had used violence or "acted in a manner to violate sexual integrity", said Mr Emmerson.
These "mis-descriptions" were at odds with descriptions given by the women themselves as to what had occurred.
Mr Emmerson told Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Ouseley at London's Law Courts the use of the EAW system was "disproportionate" as there were other means available to obtain Assange's assistance in the Swedish investigation.
Although not charged, the Australian computer expert is wanted by the Swedish prosecution authority to answer questions on three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape.
Assange says the allegations against him are politically motivated, particularly after the WikiLeaks website published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that rocked the US government.
Tomorrow lawyers for the Swedish authorities are expected to argue Judge Riddle correctly decided extradition should go ahead.
They will contend the EAW is nothing less than fair, accurate and proper and there is no justification for an inquiry into the validity or accuracy of the statements it contains.
Assange has described the extradition bid as the "European arrest warrant system run amok".
Mr Emmerson stressed that the court was not inquiring into the credibility of the women - referred to as SW and AA - who had made complaints against Assange, or determining questions of guilt or innocence.
Nothing he said should be taken to involve any condemnation of the women.
It was not intended to challenge "the genuineness of their feelings of regret about having had consensual sex with Mr Assange or trivialise their experiences".
Nor was he challenging the fact that they "found Mr Assange's sexual behaviour in these encounters disreputable, discourteous, disturbing or even pushing towards the boundaries of what they were comfortable with".
But the sexual activities that occurred had taken place with consent and, unlike in Sweden, could not be criminalised in the English jurisdiction, argued Mr Emmerson.
Assange had sex with two women in August 2010 after visiting Sweden at the invitation of a political group to give a lecture, the High Court heard.
His lawyers said the women subsequently had concerns "about diseases" and had gone to police to "seek advice".
But police treated the women's visit as the "filing of formal reports" and a prosecutor ordered Assange's arrest.
Assange had been charged with: "unlawful coercion" - prosecutors said he used "violence" and restricted the first woman's "freedom of movement", two counts of "sexual molestation" - prosecutors said he acted in a "manner designed to violate (the first woman's) sexual integrity" and "minor rape" - prosecutors said he "consummated sexual intercourse (with the second woman) by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep, was in a helpless state".
But his lawyers argued that charges had not been accurately summarised and arrest warrants were therefore "invalid".
They said "violence" was Assange holding the first woman "during consensual foreplay" and the second woman had taken part in "consensual" intercourse while "half asleep".
They said the women had consented and Assange would not have been charged with a sexual offence under English law.
The first woman who worked for the political group said Assange could stay in her apartment in Stockholm, lawyers told the court.
She had "thrown a crayfish party" in Assange's honour and had sent an internet tweet saying "...with the world's coolest people, it's amazing..."
Lawyers said the second woman became captivated with Assange when she saw a television interview with him. She had found out where he was speaking then attended the talk.
She had "helped" by buying a computer cable for Assange, attended an "intimate lunch" with him and Assange had flirted with her.
The first woman told police that Assange's physical advances were "initially welcomed" but "then it felt awkward" since he was "rough and impatient", Assange's lawyers told judges.
She described one encounter by saying that Assange "continued to have sex" and "she just wanted to get it over". Talking about another encounter, she described Assange's behaviour as "very strange"
The woman told police that "Assange tried to make sexual advances towards her every day after that evening when they had sex". She had rejected Assange, which Assange "had accepted".
"Her words may indicate she was not particularly enjoying what was going on, but they certainly do not go anywhere near what we would regard in this country as lack of consent," said Mr Emmerson.
"What (Swedish prosecutors) must prove beyond reasonable doubt is that if these circumstances as alleged had happened in London, would they have constituted offences?".
He added: "(There are) very serious questions on dual criminality in (three charges).
"(There are) very serious questions on whether what happened in charge four could have recognisable as a charge in this (country)."
Assange said nothing to journalists outside court.
Supporters gathered to cheer as he left and sang verses from Bob Dylan's 1967 song, "I Shall Be Released".
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