WikiLeaks: Assange extradition hearing begins

UPDATE 7/2/11, 11:20 GMT: Assange's solicitors, FSI Law, have published a point-by-point rebuttal of the grounds for the Australian's extradition, claiming the case is an "abuse of process".

Julian Assange, the founder of whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks, today begins a two-day court hearing that will decide whether he is extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Assange arrived with his legal team at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in southeast London at around 9:30 GMT amid a bustling crowd of reporters.

Mark Stephens, London-based solicitor for the WikiLeaks founder, yesterday announced that the arguments being used in the Australian's defence would be published on the web site of legal firm Finer Stephens Innocent at around 10:00 GMT today.

Lawyers are expected to argue that the European arrest warrant under which the extradition has been requested is invalid, as Assange is only wanted for questioning in Sweden and has not been charged with any crime.

In a skeleton argument published after Assange appeared before Belmarsh magistrates at the beginning of January, they argue that "it is a well-established principle of extradition law... that mere suspicion should not found a request for extradition".

The extradition request is also expected to be contested on human rights grounds. the skeleton argument claimed that "there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the US, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere."

The document added that "there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty" if sent to the US. Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to countries where they stand the risk that they may face execution.

Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning over accusations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion made by two women last August. He denies all allegations.

Judge Howard Riddle, who will be presiding over the hearing, could take several weeks to come to a decision. His ruling can be appealed by either party.