- Associated Press - Thursday, February 24, 2011

LONDON | Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in a sex-crimes inquiry, a British judge ruled Thursday, rejecting claims by the WikiLeaks founder that he would not face a fair trial there. Mr. Assange’s lawyer said he would appeal.

Judge Howard Riddle said the allegations of rape and sexual molestation by two women against Mr. Assange meet the definition of extraditable offenses and said the Swedish warrant had been properly issued and was valid.

Mr. Assange, 39, a key figure in the release of tens of thousands of secret U.S. government and military documents, has been out on bail during the extradition fight. He has seven days to appeal the ruling in British courts.

After hearing three days of testimony this month, Judge Riddle concluded “there is simply no reason to believe there has been a mistake” about the European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish authorities.

In his ruling, the judge dismantled the defense case against extradition point by point. He rejected the claim that comments made against Mr. Assange by Swedish prosecutors and politicians would pervert the course of justice.

Mr. Assange’s lawyers also said that Sweden’s custom of hearing rape cases behind closed doors meant he would not get a fair trial, but Judge Riddle said the practice was common in Sweden.

Mr. Assange’s lawyers have questioned Sweden’s judicial process and expressed concern their client risks being handed over to the United States, which is investigating whether Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have violated U.S. laws by distributing secret government documents.

WikiLeaks has released tens of thousands of U.S. military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on U.S. diplomatic efforts worldwide, deeply angering U.S. officials.

The judge said it was wrong for the defense to raise the question of a possible extradition to the U.S. or the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, given the absence of any evidence that Mr. Assange risks torture or execution.

The Swedish case stems from charges of sexual misconduct made against Mr. Assange by two women after he visited Sweden in August. Lawyers for Sweden have argued that authorities made repeated attempts to interview Mr. Assange while he was in Scandinavia, to no avail.

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