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Judge Says WikiLeaks' Assange Can Be Extradited To Sweden

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
A court in Britain has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face rape and sexual-assault allegations.

"I must order that Mr. Assange be extradited to Sweden," said Judge Howard Riddle at London's Belmarsh Magistrates Court, where the three-day extradition hearing took place earlier this month.

Assange's lawyers said they would appeal the decision. The 39-year-old Australian citizen denies all allegations, saying the case against him is politically motivated because of his whistle-blowing website.

Last year, WikiLeaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of confidential cables sent by U.S. diplomats abroad.

Assange's lawyers have said he would not get a fair trial in Sweden. They argue that rape trials in Sweden usually take place behind closed doors and in a "denial of justice."

The lawyers also fear Assange could eventually be extradited -- on charges related to WikiLeaks -- to the United States, where they claim he could face the death penalty.

Swedish prosecutors maintain the sexual-assault case against Assange is an entirely personal matter and that there is no connection between the case and WikiLeaks' release of the confidential U.S. cables.

Looking To Appeal

Assange was arrested in Britain on December 7 on a European warrant issued by Sweden, and he was kept in prison for nine days before being released on bail.

He has since been staying in a private mansion in eastern England. The conditions of Assange's release required wearing an electronic ankle tag and reporting daily to police.

Assange has won support from several high-profile figures in Britain, including rights campaigner Bianca Jagger and wealthy socialite Jemima Khan, who said Assange's case was an attack on freedom of information.

Assange's lawyers earlier admitted that they were prepared for bad news and that they would fight to the end.

According to British laws, the appeal process at High Court must begin within 40 days.

If London's High Court upholds the extradition ruling, further appeals can be made to Britain's Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in Britain, and its ruling is the end of the process.

compiled from agency reports