A British judge’s decision this summer to extradite former WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange to Sweden has become the subject of a new legal battle.
An appeal by the British government to overturn a ruling by Judge Howard Riddle in the North London Magistrates’ Court in September that Assange should be surrendered to Sweden was heard Friday by the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court.
The issue before the court is likely to be precisely how far Assange, who says he fears extradition to the United States and onward to Washington to face possible charges in relation to WikiLeaks’ massive trove of leaked U.S. documents, could be extradited.
The ruling by Riddle overturned a decision by a lower court last November that found Assange had a case to defend and should be allowed to make a final appeal to the higher court. Assange, 40, lives in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been since 2012 to avoid U.K. prosecution for alleged sexual crimes committed while traveling to Sweden. He is wanted for questioning there after Swedish prosecutors dropped their original 2010 investigation, but Assange fears that he will then be extradited to the United States.
The new legal bid by Britain’s Foreign Office over the extradition case is the latest twist in the extraordinarily long-running saga. Shortly after WikiLeaks in 2010 posted leaked diplomatic cables, Assange was detained by Swedish authorities in mid-2010 and detained for several days on an outstanding arrest warrant from Britain.
In the early hours of the following year, Assange sought refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has remained in daily seclusion ever since. Even during the early days of their shared presence, Ecuador and Britain have clashed over who was in control of Assange’s fate.
In December 2013, Britain’s Supreme Court ordered Ecuador to either charge Assange or extradite him.
In 2014, the court rejected an appeal from the Ecuadorean government that sought to have the British order reversed.
Both Ecuador and the United States have repeatedly insisted that no, they have not been in contact over Assange.
Attorney General Jeremy Wright requested permission in June to appeal Riddle’s judgment. Wright argued that Assange could be extradited to the United States without warning.
“This is a complex case, and the Supreme Court has already expressed its substantial reservations about aspects of the High Court’s preliminary findings and ultimately decided that Julian Assange should be handed over to the Swedish authorities and face investigation under their laws,” Wright said in a statement.
Assange’s legal team argued that the extradition would amount to “whipping up an extradition treaty with the U.S.”