February 23, 2011 / 11:52 PM / 8 years ago

UK verdict on WikiLeaks's Assange extradition due

LONDON (Reuters) - A British court is expected to rule on Thursday whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden where he is accused of sex crimes.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks after his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

During three days of legal argument earlier this month, lawyers for Assange, who has angered the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, argued he would not get a fair trial in Sweden.

They also said the 39-year-old Australian computer expert, if he is extradited from Britain, may wind up being sent to the United States where he could face execution.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies, made by two WikiLeaks volunteers during his time in Sweden last August.

One alleges he sexually molested her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom during sex.

The second woman has said Assange had sex with her while she was asleep and that he was not wearing a condom.

Prosecutors say the second allegation falls into the least severe of three categories of rape in Sweden, carrying a maximum of four years in jail, and are seeking his extradition from Britain under a fast-track European arrest warrant.

The court, based in London, can only refuse such requests for specific legal reasons, such as a warrant not being properly issued, or because it would breach Assange’s human rights.

Assange’s legal team offered a lengthy case in which they accused Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of creating a “toxic atmosphere” in Sweden and damaging his chances of a fair trial by portraying him as “public enemy number one.”

However, lawyers prosecuting the case at London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court argued the warrant complied with the legal requirements.

They also dismissed suggestions Assange could be extradited to the United States, saying Britain would have to give its consent first to such a move.

Judge Howard Riddle is expected to give his decision on Thursday and if he agrees to extradition, Assange, who has been free under strict conditions since he was released him on bail in December, must be extradited within 10 days.

However, the WikiLeaks founder would have seven days in which to launch an appeal to London’s High Court.

Editing by Michael Roddy

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