The highest UK court has ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of rape and sexual assault. The decision is the result of a legal battle spanning a year and a half. In a Wikileaks statement released before the ruling, Assange maintains that the sexual misconduct case is part of a "coordinated effort" engineered by "US, UK, Swedish and Australian governments" to bring him closer to extradition to the US, "to face espionage charges for journalistic activities."
His attorneys have two weeks to appeal today's decision, over the point of whether the UK court is correctly interpreting international treaties.
The highly unusual legal development came after the supreme court justices decided that a public prosecutor was a "judicial authority" and that therefore Assange's arrest warrant had been lawfully issued. Assange, who is wanted in connection with accusations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden, was not in court; there was no legal requirement for him to be present. According to his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, he was stuck in central London traffic and never made it to the court in Westminster. Assange denies the accusations.
The obscure but potentially pivotal issue raised by Dinah Rose QC, Assange's barrister, relates to Article 31.3 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. It states that treaties can be interpreted bearing in mind the "subsequent practice" of their application.
From the Wikileaks statement released in advance of the ruling:
* The US Grand Jury reportedly possesses a sealed indictment, which could be used to extradite Assange to the United States.
* Secret subpoenas have been served on ISPs and online services for the private data of WikiLeaks staff and supporters.
* Special task-forces have been setup by various various US intelligence agencies, including the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and the US State Department.
* Associates of WikiLeaks have been detained and interrogated at US and UK airports, their equipment confiscated, and attempts have been made to turn them into informants.
* If the indictment is unsealed upon Assange's extradition to Sweden he faces further removal from Sweden to the United States.
* Meanwhile, an unprecedented extralegal denial of service by Visa and Mastercard has cut off funding to WikiLeaks, almost shutting down WikiLeaks' publishing activity.
* If the extradition to Sweden is quashed in the outcome of the court judgement, he faces extradition from the United Kingdom.
* Both Swedish and UK governments have been coordinating with the US, taking steps to facilitate a US extradition request in either eventuality. Assange cannot take steps to avoid either risk. For 539 days he has been detained without charge in the UK under house arrest.
* Under US pressure the Australian government has relaxed its own extradition law, smoothing any possible extradition from Assange's home country. The Gillard government has also amended legislation to give Australian intelligence agencies powers of surveillance over WikiLeaks supporters.
Photo: Protesters supporting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange hold placards outside the Supreme Court in London. (REUTERS)