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British woman fights son's extradition to US

A British woman is fighting to keep her son from being extradited to the United States for alleged copyright infringement. Richard O'Dwyer faces 10 years in jail for a crime UK authorities seem reluctant prosecute.

Julia O'Dwyer and her son Richard are in the midst of what she calls 'the fight of their lives.' The latest stage began when a judge ruled in January that Richard, a university student, should be deported to the United States to face copyright charges for setting up the website TVShack.

TVShack, which Richard established in 2007, provided links to watch films and television shows online.

The Hollywood-based Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) - and the US Justice Department - believes the young Englishman should have to answer for that in US courts.

"Richard O'Dwyer created TVShack.net offering thousands of movies and other content to viewers in violation of both US and UK law," the MPAA claimed in a statement to DW. They also alleged he "profited handsomely from advertising on the site."

Richard O'Dwyer

Richard's fate may be decided in October

But O'Dwyer's supporters, who include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, say he merely ran an operation that was nothing more than a search engine.

And Richard's mother is adamant that he should face allegations before a British court rather than a US court.

"Richard hasn't been to America since he was five," she said. "If he's committed a crime he should face the courts here," she says.

But the UK authorities have ruled out bringing charges.

Fearful of the future

The 24-year-old is now on bail, awaiting the decision of an appeal against extradition. The US first sought his extradition in May 2011.

"For a long time Richard had his head in the sand. I think he just thought this is nuts. This is not happening," his mother Julia told DW from her home in Bolsolver, England. "He didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted it to go away. He just ignored it and got on with his life, and to a degree I supported that because I didn't want it to disrupt his studies," she said.

A relief of the Greek goddess justice

Richard set up TVShack from England, but could be tried in the US

Richard has spent the past few months on an industrial work placement as part of his multimedia studies course at Sheffield Hallam University, Julia said. And it has gone well: "They have given him glowing references and testimonials for the court."

But O'Dwyer's mother is worried about her son's future. If Richard is deported he may have to wait months or even years in a remand prison in New York before his case comes to court.

"I've researched the conditions in US jails, and they're not very good,' Julia said, pointing to another Brit who was jailed for defrauding his employer after being extradited in 2006. "Gary Mulgrew wrote a book about his experiences in a Texas prison. He even saw a man being beaten to death in jail," she said.

Justified concerns?

"I wouldn't play down Richard O'Dwyer's mother's concerns at all," said David Blunkett, the former British home secretary who introduced the US-UK extradition treaty in 2003. "Some of the jails in the US are very tough," he said.

"However the issue of whether people are treated humanly in the United States went all the way to the Strasbourg court very recently, and they judged that the judicial and penal system in the US met the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights," he told DW, referring to a case heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

The US-UK extradition treaty was introduced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to deal with serious crime. It allows Britons to be extradited if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they have committed a crime, while Americans can only be extradited if "probable cause" has been shown.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg (Photo: Matt Dunham)

Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, could push to have the treaty amended

Critics say it is 'lop-sided,' with Brits facing deportation to the United States but no cases being brought by the UK against US citizens.

Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties criticized the treaty before they came to power. But the two coalition partners have not made changes to it since they have been in government.

Last week, however, a report commissioned by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called for reform, saying the treaty needs to be reworded to ensure British citizens get the same legal protections as US citizens.

Brits face trial

Even if the treaty is revised, it would come too late for Richard O'Dwyer, who expects to hear a judge's decision on his extradition appeal next month.

And he is not the only British citizen who faces extradition to the US. Gary McKinnon has been waiting almost 10 years to see if he will be deported to face charges of computer hacking. McKinnon suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, and experts fear he's at risk of suicide if extradited.

Retired British businessman Chris Tappin, who is on remand in Texas, is due to go on trial for alleged arms dealing in November. If convicted, he could face up to 35 years in prison.

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