WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues to fight against being extradited to Sweden on sex crime charges. The appeal is likely to take months to be heard and, if unsuccessful, further legal challenges are expected.
Assange fears extradition to the US
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lodged an appeal against a ruling that he should be extradited from Britain to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Assange's defense team claim the allegations are politically motivated. Assange infuriated the U.S. government last year by publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
Last week Assange was told by a British judge he could be sent to Sweden to face questioning over complaints by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.
A court official confirmed that it had received the request to appeal this decision, but no date has yet been set for a hearing.
The accusations relate to a week-long visit to Stockholm in August 2010, where Assange had sexual relations with two women.
One volunteer accuses Assange of sexually molesting her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom during sex. The second woman says he had sex with her while she was asleep and that he was not wearing a condom, an allegation which falls into the least severe of three rape categories in Sweden.
Assange fears extradition to US
Assange's lawyers claim he will not get a fair trial in Sweden, as rape cases are held in secret.
WikiLeaks published diplomatically embarassing material last year
Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens said his appeal case was likely to be heard in the next two to three months and if unsuccessful, permission could ultimately be granted for a challenge to the country's top judges in Britain's Supreme Court who can rule on points of law.
"In any ordinary case it would be granted, but of course we are dealing with Julian Assange," Stephens said. "This case has been thus far fast-tracked in a way which is unusual."
WikiLeaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year when it published more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.
The US government alleges the WikiLeaks publication of the documents has endangered lives by exposing names of individuals cooperating with the US military, or of human rights activists in repressive countries whose conversations with US officials were detailed in State Department dispatches.
Assange claims that, if he is extradited to Sweden, he is at risk of being subsequently extradited to the United States, where several politicians have demanded he be tried for treason, or even executed, over the WikiLeaks publication of classified diplomatic cables.
Hefty charges for suspected WikiLeaker
Manning is being assessed for his mental capacity
The latest twist in Assange's fight against extradition comes just after US authorities lodged 22 additional charges against Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US soldier accused of passing a host of confidential documents to WikiLeaks. The new accusations include the accusation of "aiding the enemy," which carries a potential death sentence.
But military prosecutors do not plan to seek the death penalty if Manning, a former low-ranking intelligence analyst in Iraq, is convicted. Instead, they will opt for life imprisonment, the army said in a statement.
The US military had already announced 12 charges against Manning in July, accusing him of violating federal criminal and military law.
A trial date has yet to be set for Manning, who is being held in maximum security solitary confinement. The army said Wednesday that proceedings have been delayed since July 12, 2010 pending the outcome of an inquiry into the soldier's "mental capacity" requested by defense lawyers.
U.S. prosecutors are also looking at whether charges can be brought against Assange.
Author: Natalia Dannenberg (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton