Stage set for epic extradition fight over WikiLeaks’ Assange


LONDON (AP) — What is expected to be an epic legal and political battle over whether to extradite Julian
Assange to the U.S. began to take shape, with Britain’s opposition Labour Party urging the government
Friday not to hand the WikiLeaks founder over to the Americans.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the U.S. is prosecuting Assange because he exposed "evidence
of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan." Diane Abbott, Labour’s spokeswoman for domestic affairs,
said the case is about the "embarrassment of the things he’s revealed about the American military
and security services."
On Thursday, British authorities dragged the 47-year-old Australian native from the Ecuadorian Embassy in
London, where he had taken refuge for nearly seven years, and U.S. authorities announced charges against
him of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
The politicization of the case reflects the clashing views of Assange as either a heroic whistleblower
standing up to the mighty United States or a willing stooge who helped the Russians boost Donald Trump’s
presidential campaign by publishing emails that embarrassed his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The battle to fend off extradition could take years and involve several layers of appeal. Assange could
also face a second extradition request if Sweden decides to pursue a rape case against him that was
dropped in 2017, when he was holed up in the embassy, beyond the reach of the law.
His arrest became possible after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, complaining among other things
that he was a messy and disruptive houseguest.
If found guilty of the U.S. charges, Assange could get five years in prison. His next court appearance
was set for May 2 via a prison video link.
Extradition lawyer Ben Keith said the court will not assess the evidence against Assange to determine his
guilt or innocence but will scrutinize whether the offense he is accused of in the U.S. would be a crime
in Britain.
"The most likely outcome is that he will be extracted to the United States," he said.
Britain is bound by law not to extradite a suspect to a country where he or she could face execution for
the crime, but that’s not the case here.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, stressed when he revoked Assange’s asylum that he had received
assurances from Britain that Assange would not be exposed to capital punishment.
If Sweden also makes an extradition request, it would be up to Britain’s Home Secretary to determine
which would take priority. Typically the first request made — in this case, the U.S. one — would be
acted on first, but officials have some leeway, Keith said.
If Assange loses in extradition court, he could appeal several times and ultimately try to have his case
heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

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