British politicians are heaping pressure on the UK Government to make sure WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces justice in Sweden if prosecutors there reopen a rape investigation against him.
- Calls for Assange to be extradited to Sweden, if it makes a request, rather than the US
- MP Alistar Burt says it is “quite disturbing” to see Swedish rape allegations against Assange minimised
- Swedish prosecutors say rape case could be reactivated since statute of limitations runs until next year
More than 70 British politicians signed a letter urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to “do everything you can to champion action that will ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden makes an extradition request”.
In 2012, to avoid extradition to the country, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — where he stayed for seven years until Thursday, when Ecuador withdrew asylum and the Australian was arrested by Metropolitan Police.
The sexual assault charges levelled against Assange were dropped in May 2017, but Swedish prosecutors say they are now re-examining the case after a request by one of the alleged victims’ lawyers.
Some have now called for the British Government to extradite Assange to Sweden, if it makes an official request, rather than to the US, which seeks him on conspiracy charges.
Prominent Conservative Party MP Alistair Burt, a former Foreign Office minister, said it was “quite disturbing” to see what he said was the sexual allegations being minimised.
He said the testimony of the two women made it “essential” Assange faced justice, to either be cleared in a Swedish court or convicted.
Assange, 47, has denied the sexual misconduct allegations. He has said they are politically motivated, and the sex was consensual.
He is now in Belmarsh Prison in south-east London, waiting to be sentenced for jumping bail in Britain and facing an extradition request from the US on charges of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
Assange ‘to fight US extradition request’
WikiLeaks says Assange will fight the US extradition request and has been meeting with his legal team to plan his defence.
He has not had a chance to enter a plea in response to the US charge, but he said all of his WikiLeaks actions were those of a legitimate journalist.
If Britain receives competing extradition requests, lawyers say the Home Secretary would have some leeway in deciding which takes priority.
Considerations usually include which request came first and which alleged crime is more serious.
Most of the politicians who signed the letter are from the opposition Labour Party, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn wants Britain to refuse to send Assange to the US.
After Assange’s arrest, Corbyn praised him for exposing US atrocities committed in Iraq and Afghanistan when WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of confidential US documents in 2010.
British politicians are free to lobby the government for a certain course of action, but it is up to the courts to decide whether the US request for Assange’s extradition — and a possible future request from Sweden — should be honoured.
The Home Secretary, a senior Cabinet official, can block extradition under certain circumstances, including cases where a person might face capital punishment or torture in the country seeking their extradition.
Rape case’s statute of limitations runs out next year
Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into Assange after two women accused him of sexual offences during a 2010 visit to Sweden.
Some of the sexual misconduct accusations are no longer viable because their time ran out.
But Swedish prosecutors have said a rape case could be reactivated since the statute of limitations for that runs until August 2020.
After Assange’s arrest this week, Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson was tapped to look into a request from a lawyer for one of the accusers, to find out whether the case could be pursued.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who alleged she was raped by Assange, said she would “do everything” to have the Swedish case reopened so Assange could be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted.
The extradition process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him.
It is expected it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the US or possibly to Sweden, even if he ultimately loses in court.