Julian Assange due in court over extradition case

Julian Assange is due to appear in court today in his fight against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.

The district judge Nicholas Evans will oversee a case management hearing at Belmarsh magistrates court, sitting at Woolwich crown court in south-east London, as preparations continue for a two-day extradition hearing starting on 7 February.

A high court judge released Assange on £240,000 bail last month after the WikiLeaks founder had spent nine days in Wandsworth prison in London. Assange spent Christmas at a manor home on the Norfolk-Suffolk border owned by Vaughan Smith, a former army captain and the founder of the Frontline Club for journalists in London.

Assange's court hearings have taken place amid chaotic scenes, with dozens of journalists in attendance and protesters gathered in the streets. Sweden is seeking extradition of the 39-year-old Australian over allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion, made by two women over 10 days in August.

One of the women alleges that Assange had sex with her without a condom when it was her "express wish" that one should be used. The second woman accuses him of having sex with her on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

Assange admits having had consensual sex with both women, but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

In interviews with Swiss newspapers yesterday, Assange said he might move to Switzerland or Australia, and revealed that WikiLeaks has been losing more than £400,000 a week since releasing a collection of US diplomatic cables that severely embarrassed the US government. He said he had not made a request for political asylum in Switzerland, and declined to say whether he would.

Assange, who enjoys the support of many high-profile figures including Jemima Khan, Tariq Ali and Bianca Jagger, has signed a deal with Guardian Books, which will publish next month the first in-depth account of the WikiLeaks phenomenon. The book will be called WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy.

US officials have stepped up their pressure on WikiLeaks by seeking information from Twitter. A federal court approved a US department of justice subpoena demanding that the site hand over data about users with ties to WikiLeaks.

(Published by The Guardian - January 11, 2011)

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