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Posted by: Gherson Extradition

This June marks three years since WikiLeak's founder Julian Assange controversially entered Ecuador's embassy seeking diplomatic asylum. Assange, it will be recalled, is the subject of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish authorities in connection with a number of alleged sexual offences. The extradition case was intensely contested and ultimately made its route all the way to the UK's highest court. The Supreme Court rejected his final appeal in May 2012 and confirmed his extradition to Sweden. In June 2012 Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy to claim asylum and he has not left the building since.

Assange claims that the case against him in Sweden is fabricated but states that he fears Sweden would in turn hand him over to the United States of America where he remains the subject of a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks' publication of classified military and diplomatic documents. Assange is concerned that if he were extradited to America he would be subjected to a long list of very serious criminal charges including espionage and conspiracy and could potentially face the death penalty.

Assange has not claimed asylum with the UK authorities - nor, it appears, did he make any attempt to do so prior to the Supreme Court rejecting his final appeal. The UK authorities have explicitly stated that they do not and will not recognize the 'diplomatic asylum' that has been granted by Ecuador.

In law, if Assange was returned to Sweden any subsequent extradition request from the United States would require the UK court's approval before it was executed. Furthermore, there has been no extradition request from the United States to the UK in the time Assange has been here. Nevertheless Assange's supporters have sought assurances that he would not be extradited from Sweden to the United States should any request arrive. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Swedish authorities have refused to issue any such hypothetical guarantee.

The situation at present appears to be one of deadlock. The European Arrest Warrant has been upheld as valid by the highest court in the UK. Assange's extradition has been ordered. As things stand, if Assange leaves the embassy he will be extradited to Sweden. Furthermore, Assange has further legal problems in the UK. The UK authorities have announced that they will arrest Assange for a breach of his bail conditions, which amounts to a separate domestic criminal offence, once he leaves the embassy. It will be recalled that several high profile backers put forward a substantial sum of money as a security for bail for Assange. In addition to the loss of these monies Assange himself faces a prison sentence here in the UK.

The UK authorities have maintained a 24-hour watch outside the embassy and the costs involved in monitoring the situation and waiting for Assange to leave have reportedly escalated to millions of pounds.

Recently, it appeared that a compromise might be reached. The Swedish authorities reportedly agreed to interview Assange in the embassy. The statute of limitations on some of the alleged charges against him runs out by the end of this summer. However it now seems that this move has failed and both parties have accused each other of miscommunication and recklessness.

WikiLeaks reported that in 2014 nearly 60 legal, media and civil rights organisations, including Amnesty International, complained to the United Nations about the treatment of Assange. His supporters have asked the United Nations to issue a finding as to whether Assange's situation amounts to "arbitrary detention". They claim that he has effectively been detained, without charge, first in prison, then on bail under curfew and subsequently at the embassy for a total almost five years since he was first arrested on the European Arrest Warrant by British police in December 2010. In law it seems extremely unlikely that the period of time he spent in custody and on bail prior to entering the embassy could ever be classified as "arbitrary detention" and critics of Assange would say that his current situation in the embassy is entirely of his making and he is of course free to leave the embassy at any stage.

In August 2014 Assange told the world's media that he would leave the embassy "soon". A further ten months have passed since but he still remains in the embassy. In a recent interview, Ecuador's president Rafael Correa assured the press that Assange has not overstayed his welcome and can remain in the building for the rest of his life is necessary. However, Assange has complained about his deteriorating health due to a lack of fresh air and sunlight in the premises and has compared living at the embassy to "life on the space station".

The president of Ecuador has asserted that it is for the UK authorities to provide a solution for the position Assange is in, by granting him immunity and safe passage. He went on to emotively claim that if a European refugee was stuck in a European embassy in Quito for years without letting him stay safe in the country, the Ecuadorian government "would be called dictators, fascist" and "...brought in front of the International Criminal Court".

To date the UK authorities' position remains consistent. Firstly, Assange is in breach of his bail conditions and will be arrested as soon as he leaves the embassy. Secondly, the UK does not and will not recognize the grant of 'diplomatic asylum' to Assange by Ecuador within the embassy. The UK authorities have not recognised Assange as a refugee and this will not bar his extradition to Sweden - neither will the UK allow Assange safe passage out of the country to Ecuador. Finally, subject to any sentence that might be imposed under the Bail Act, there is a final decision of the UK courts in respect of Assange's extradition. Unless the European Arrest Warrant was withdrawn in the interim by the Swedish authorities, the UK will extradite him to Sweden.

Given all of that it is difficult to see any end to the current deadlock unless and until there is a change in position by the Swedish authorities.

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