WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was unlikely to be extradited from Sweden to the United States if there was a risk of the death penalty or a military court, Australia’s foreign minister said Wednesday.
British authorities won their case to extradite Assange to Sweden to face sex assault allegations, but because he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London they have so far been unable to send him there.
Supporters of the 41-year-old Australian believe that if sent to Sweden, Assange could be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of a vast horde of sensitive U.S. papers.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australia could not get involved in cases outside its jurisdiction but that Stockholm had indicated the former hacker was unlikely to be sent to the United States.
“It’s not a subject for Australian diplomacy, it’s a subject for consular support,” he told the Australian Financial Review. We have sought assurances from Sweden (that) due processes will be accorded. And the Swedes have said they don’t extradite anyone if there’s a capital offense or it’s a matter to do with military or intelligence.”
WikiLeaks has urged Sweden to guarantee it will not extradite Assange to the U.S., where he fears being pursued over the organization’s release of thousands of sensitive files, including on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stockholm has received no extradition request from Washington and Swedish law and the European human rights convention ratified by Sweden ban the extradition of a person to a country where they could face the death penalty.
In June, Carr said he had raised the issue of the possible extradition of Assange to the United States with American officials on two occasions and there was “no hint” of any such plan.
Carr has said if America had wanted to extradite the Australian they could have done it during his time in Britain, a country with which Washington has a robust extradition arrangement.
The United States has insisted it had nothing to do with efforts by Britain to extradite Assange to Sweden, and Tuesday denied former hacker’s “wild assertions” it had launched a witch-hunt for him.
Assange’s anti-secrecy agenda has polarized opinion between those who regard him as a hero and others who claim he has been reckless and irresponsible by dumping confidential government documents on the Internet.
The former head of Britain’s MI5 security service Stella Rimington said Wednesday that Assange’s “naive” approach had placed lives at risk.
“What is not tolerated or healthy, in my opinion, is the indiscriminate pouring out into the public domain of streams of leaked documents by Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization,” she told a conference in Brisbane.
But she also said the US should have better protected its secrets.
“One can criticize the United States for having a so-called secret database which was apparently available extensively … including to a young soldier if the reports are true,” she said in a reference to Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks.
Rimington said the irony of the WikiLeaks furore was that it would now make governments more secretive “which must be absolutely the opposite effect of what WikiLeaks was seeking.”
Rimington ran MI5 from 1992-1996, the first female director of the organisation. She is now an author.
[image via Agence France-Presse]