Leading article: The need for justice, not persecution

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The Independent Online

The Swedish authorities will appeal against the granting of bail for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the High Court today. Their arguments should be rejected. They seem to regard Mr Assange as a cross between Jason Bourne and the Scarlet Pimpernel. But restrictions on his bail imposed by British courts are tight enough to prevent him fleeing. Mr Assange will be tagged, subject to a curfew, report daily to the police and surrender his passport. That is sufficient. There is no good reason for the bar to be set higher for Mr Assange than any other subject of an extradition warrant.

The question of whether Mr Assange should be extradited at all is a separate (and more vexed) issue. His supporters claim that the extradition request from Sweden, where Mr Assange is accused of rape, is politically motivated. But no evidence has yet been produced to support the claim that the country is acting on the orders of the United States in pursuing Mr Assange. It will therefore be difficult for the British courts to resist the request of a fellow democratic member of the European Union.

The precedent could be undesirable too. EU extradition is not a one-way street. Britain benefits from the ability to request that suspected criminals within Europe be extradited promptly too. Osman Hussain, one of the failed London bombers of 21 July 2005, was extradited from Rome under a European Arrest Warrant.

The danger is that Mr Assange could be extradited to Sweden and then whisked off to the US to face trial for his WikiLeaks activities. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, says his officials are pursuing "a very serious criminal investigation" into Mr Assange's publication of US diplomatic cables. But it is unclear what crime Mr Assange is supposed to have committed by doing so.

The Swedish government and courts must understand that their credibility is on the line over this case. If Mr Assange is to be extradited from Britain it must be to face trial for the crime of which he is accused – not to be punished for the embarrassment his actions have caused the global diplomatic community.