Assange can pursue extradition fight in UK

2011-12-05 17:14

London - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was on Monday granted permission to apply to England's highest court in a final attempt to block his extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.

Two High Court judges threw Assange a fresh legal lifeline when they ruled that the case raised a question "of general public importance" which should be decided by the Supreme Court "as quickly as possible".

Although the judges refused Assange permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, they ruled that it should have the last word, clearing the way for his lawyers to apply directly to the higher court.

Addressing a scrum of cameramen and photographers outside the court in London, Assange said the judges had made the "correct" decision.

"Today the High Court has decided that the issues arising from my own case are of general public importance and may be of assistance to other cases and should be heard by the Supreme Court," he said.

"I think that is a correct decision. The long struggle for justice for me and others continues."

The 40-year-old editor-in-chief of the whistleblowing website that has infuriated Washington by releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents has no automatic right to be heard by the Supreme Court.

His lawyer Gareth Peirce said his legal team had 14 days to submit a written petition.

She confirmed that if the court refuses to hear the request, then Assange would have exhausted all legal avenues in Britain.

"The Supreme Court receives it and considers it on paper, three judges from the Supreme Court consider it and whether to grant leave to the case," Peirce told reporters.

"If they refuse leave, it is the end of it."

Politically motivated

Assange was arrested in London a year ago on a European arrest warrant and has been living at the country mansion of a supporter under stringent bail conditions.

Two women in Sweden have alleged that Assange raped one of them and sexually molested another after he held a seminar in Stockholm in August last year.

The WikiLeaks founder strongly denies any wrongdoing and says the sex was consensual.

He believes the allegations are politically motivated and linked to WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of classified US files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Later releases of cables from US embassies across the world also embarrassed the US administration with their often frank appraisals of world leaders.

A lower court initially approved Assange's extradition in February, but he appealed to the High Court which rejected his challenge on November 2.

Support for the platinum blond WikiLeaks chief has dwindled amid a slew of controversies, including a spectacular falling-out with the organisation's former media partners, the New York Times and Guardian newpapers.

Former WikiLeaks colleagues have turned on him, attacking the way he ran the site.

However, he retains many supporters and this month WikiLeaks was awarded a top Australian journalism prize, the Walkley Awards, for its work in releasing the cables.

The suspected source of the files, US soldier Bradley Manning, was arrested and has spent the last year and a half in a military prison. He is due to appear before a military tribunal on December 16.

WikiLeaks suffered a jolt when the site was forced to suspend releasing files in October after a funding blockade.

It resumed publication last week with the launch of a project on the global surveillance industry.