UPDATE 2-WikiLeaks' Assange in UK court to fight extradition

Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:59pm EDT

(Updates at end of first day)

By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) - Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asked a court for a second time on Tuesday to block his extradition from Britain to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct, arguing the case was legally flawed.

The 40-year-old Australian computer expert is in the High Court in London for a two-day hearing after losing an initial challenge to the extradition order in February.

The defence's argument centred on the fact that he had not been formally accused of anything yet in Sweden. The defence said it had no access yet to the full dossier detailing the allegations against him.

His defence lawyer Ben Emmerson told two judges the European arrest warrant (EAW) on which he was being held was flawed because it failed to provide "a fair, accurate and proper" description of his alleged sexual misconduct in Sweden.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about three allegations of sexual assault and one of rape made by two women, both WikiLeaks volunteers, in Sweden last August. Assange denies the allegations.

Emmerson said he did not dispute that the two women found Assange's "sexual behaviour in these encounters disreputable, discourteous, disturbing or even pushing towards the boundaries of what they were comfortable with".

But he reiterated the sexual activities that occurred had taken place with consent and, unlike in Sweden, could not be criminalised under English law.

DIPLOMATIC CABLES

The whistle-blowing website began publishing a cache of more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables which angered the U.S. government and caused a media sensation last year shortly before Assange was arrested.

Assange has said he believes the Swedish case is politically motivated.

The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against Assange over the leaks. Assange fears extradition to Sweden could be a stepping-stone to him being taken to the United States.

Assange, wearing a dark-blue suit, sat quietly in court, swapping notes with his defence team and aides. He was freed on bail last December and has been staying at a country house.

Fellow Australian and left-wing investigative journalist and author, John Pilger, sat close by. He had earlier arrived at court to be greeted by a small group of supporters some carrying banners reading: "Free Assange."

In a case which has drawn huge international interest, two judges are being asked by Assange's legal team to rule that his sexual encounters with both women were consensual and the alleged offences do not merit extradition.

A judge originally dismissed arguments by Assange's defence team that he would not get a fair trial in Sweden and that it would ultimately violate his human rights.

Even if the High Court upholds the extradition request, Assange could take his battle to Britain's Supreme Court, the country's highest, though this can only be done on a point of law considered to be of general public interest.

A Supreme Court ruling would mark the end of the process.

Assange has hired a new legal team to represent him after his previous team, which included prominent British attorney Mark Stephens, was seen as too confrontational.

Replacing Stephens is prominent human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

She has represented accused militants in high-profile cases, including former prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, and the "Guildford Four," a group of Irish citizens whose conviction in an alleged IRA bomb plot was overturned after they had spent years in prison.

In an emailed statement prior to the appeal hearing her office said "it would be highly unusual" for the High Court to pronounce a decision over the appeal on the same day. "It is normal for a written judgment to be given," it said.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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