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No end in sight as Assange completes second year in Ecuadorian embassy in London

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to mark his two years in refuge at the embassy, June 19, 2014
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to mark his two years in refuge at the embassy, June 19, 2014

AP Photo/Sang Tan

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has just completed his second year under permanent British police surveillance in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought refuge to avoid extradition to the United States via Sweden and a possible death sentence there.

There has been no sign of any resolution of the legal and diplomatic tangle surrounding Assange in the past two years. Shortly after WikiLeaks posted confidential US documents in 2010, the Swedish judicial authorities began investigating allegations against Assange of sexual misconduct.

Assange, who was in London at the time, fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after a British court approved Sweden's extradition request. He then asked Ecuador to give him political asylum. His request was granted two months later.

Persecuted in the US

Although still the subject of an extradition order to Sweden, what Assange really fears is extradition to the United States, where the Department of Justice and the FBI began investigating him in 2010. The investigation is secret because it concerns allegedly criminal activities involving national security but, under US Code, Assange could be facing the death penalty.

“As the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to gather and publish information, Julian Assange should not be the subject of an investigation,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The Obama administration has launched a war against WikiLeaks although the information it has published is of public interest.”

Sweden and UK should rule out extradition to US

If it wanted to, Sweden could rule out any possibility of Assange being extradited to the United States. Its government has the right of veto over extraditions and extraditing Assange would anyway be illegal as extradition on political or military ground is excluded by article V.5 of the extradition agreement between Sweden and the US.

Furthermore, the precedent set by the 1989 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Soering v. United Kingdom prevents Sweden or the UK from extraditing anyone to a country where they might face the death penalty.

The Swedish government must undertake to respect the law and not approve any US extradition request.

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