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Assange Extradition Case Begins

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with conspiring to hack into Pentagon computers. They want him sent to the United States, and today could be a first step. At a hearing this morning, Assange confirmed to a London court that he will fight extradition to the U.S. Assange was arrested last month after being forced out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. And he was sentenced yesterday to 50 weeks in British prison for jumping bail.

Anna Bradshaw is an expert in European Union criminal law. She's a partner at Peters & Peters in London. And I asked her this morning, what needs to be proven for Assange to be sent to the U.S.?

ANNA BRADSHAW: Well, there are a number of tests that have to be satisfied before Assange can be extradited to the U.S. But it's not a question for the U.K. courts to decide whether he's guilty or not. They just need to make sure that the tests for extradition are met. And they're relatively straightforward. The offense that he's accused of having been committed has to correspond to a similar offense under U.K. law. He can't have been pursued for the same conduct in the U.K. or anywhere else before. There are a number of bars that could be raised by him and are likely to be raised by him.

For example, there have already been hints by his lawyers that they're likely to invoke the so-called political motivation bar, which is where the request is made for a purpose, like political motivation, but it could include motivations that have to do with other impermissible grounds, like race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. In addition to that but also closely related is a more general human rights bar, which again, there have been hints that Julian Assange might seek to rely on. So for example, his lawyer said that she has concerns about whether or not he will receive a fair trial if he's returned to the U.S.

GREENE: And if the answer to that is no, that could be a reason for a British court to not send him to the United States?

BRADSHAW: Potentially. But the test is extremely high. Now, the U.K. is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. So it would not be able to, in the course of deciding on the extradition request, do anything that amounts to a violation of his rights under that convention. But the test, as I said, would need to be, (laughter), met, and it's a high threshold to pass.

GREENE: Now, he's still also facing charges of rape and sexual misconduct in Sweden, which, I mean, he said he's innocent. But could that play a role here?

BRADSHAW: I think strategically that would be his best approach here. If Sweden were to make a competing extradition request then the home secretary here might choose to give that priority. And that could mean that there is, at best, a delay to the U.S. extradition request. Which could, of course, be repeated to the Swedish authorities, but then he would have another crack at resisting it from Sweden.

GREENE: So much to follow as this process gets started (laughter). Anna Bradshaw is a partner at Peters and Peters in London, also an expert in EU criminal law. Thanks a lot for helping us understand this.

BRADSHAW: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.