Julian Assange's lawyer has said that the WikiLeaks founder will fight attempts to have him extradited to Sweden because he fears that it will be the beginning of a process which will ultimately see him handed over to the US authorities.
Mr Assange is wanted by the Swedish authorities for questioning over sexual allegations. A European arrest warrant has been circulated, but Mr Assange, who is currently in Britain, has yet to be arrested.
Yesterday his lawyer, Mark Stephens, told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show that the warrant was a "political stunt" and that he would fight it on the grounds that it it could lead to the WikiLeaks founder being handed over to the US, where senior politicians have called for him to be executed. Mr Assange, 39, has come under growing pressure from politicians in the US and around the world after his WikiLeaks website started publishing excerpts from a cache of 250,000 secret American diplomatic cables last week. The leaks have caused the US huge embarrassment.
The former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has described him as "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands" and called for him to be hunted down like a Taliban leader, while another senior Republican, Mike Huckabee, has said that "anything less than execution is too kind a penalty" for what he has done.
Swedish prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant seeking his extradition for questioning on allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Interpol has sent a "red notice" urging people to contact police with information of his whereabouts. Mr Assange denies all of the sexual allegations. Mr Stephens told the show: "I am rather worried by the political motivations that appear to be behind this. It doesn't escape me that Sweden was one of those lick-spittle states which used its resources and facilities for rendition flights." The lawyer reiterated his claims that the case against his client was politically motivated: "It is quite bizarre, because the chief prosecutor in Sweden dropped the entire case against him, saying there was absolutely nothing for him to find back in September.
"And then a few weeks later on – after the intervention of a Swedish politician – a new prosecutor, not in Stockholm where Julian and these women had been, but in Gothenburg, began a new case which has resulted in these warrants and the Interpol red notice being put out. It does seem to be a political stunt."
The lawyer refuses to confirm Mr Assange's whereabouts for fear that it will endanger his client's life. He said: "The police know where he is, the Swedish prosecutor knows where he is and she could ring up at any moment. He has not been charged with anything. He is only wanted for interview, so why not have that interview by consent, instead of this show trial?"
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