AUSTRALIAN WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden to answer sex crime allegations.
British High Court judges John Thomas and Duncan Ousely said that Mr Assange, who was in court to hear the verdict, should be sent to Sweden to be questioned over the alleged rape of one woman and the molestation of another in Stockholm last year.
They rejected claims that moves to return him to Scandinavia were unfair and unlawful.
The 40-year-old has denied wrongdoing, and insists the case is politically motivated by those opposed to the work of his secret-spilling organisation.
After the verdict, a subdued Mr Assange said “we will be considering our next step (in the coming days)”. His lawyers have been allowed 14 days to prepare a case to convince the courts to allow for a final appeal to the Supreme Court. However, leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is only granted if there is a point of law of general public importance.
British Home Secretary Theresa May must sign off on an extradition request but that has been seen as a formality.
Mr Assange’s team had expected such a verdict and there were no visible signs of surprise following the decision. Geoffrey Robertson QC, a member of Mr Assange’s legal team, accepted that the Australian “may be patting reindeers by Christmas”.
Mr Robertson urged the Australian government to step in on Mr Assange’s behalf to ensure that he gets a fair trial in Sweden.
“In fact, he won’t be at liberty to pat reindeers and that brings us to a raft of problems that he might face in Sweden and that the Australian government might have to do something about,” he told ABC’s Lateline.
“It didn’t do anything for David Hicks and that was something of a disgrace. More importantly he is going to be tried in secret and this is outrageous by our standards and by any standards.”
Arriving at the G20 conference in Cannes last night, Julia Gillard declined to be drawn on the fate of Mr Assange.
Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said that Australia could not intervene on behalf on Mr Assange in due process between British and Swedish courts, but would continue to provide Mr Assange with consular support.
Mr Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, called on all Australians to put pressure on the federal government to get a guarantee that her son would not be extradited to the US. “Now Julian’s even closer to a US extradition or rendition,” she said from the Sunshine Coast.
Since being arrested on a European arrest warrant in December in London, Mr Assange has spent the past 11 months living under strict bail conditions at the Norfolk mansion of one of his supporters, Vaughan Smith, who said of the verdict: ‘it’s not good news”.