WikiLeaks founder back in court over extradition

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 11 2011 4:14 a.m. MST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, right, and his lawyer Mark Stephens arrive at Belmarsh Magistrate's court in London for his extradition hearing, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

Sang Tan, Associated Press

LONDON — The founder of secret-spilling website WikiLeaks was back in court Tuesday as part of his fight to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he's wanted on sex crimes allegations.

Julian Assange, 39, was driven to London's high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court accompanied by his lawyer Mark Stephens. The procedural hearing lasted for only about 10 minutes, with lawyers for both sides saying they were on track for Assange's next court appearance on Feb. 7.

The rape and molestation accusations against Assange stem from encounters with two women during a trip to Sweden taken over the summer, just as his website was garnering global attention with its huge leaks of classified U.S. material.

The Swedish case has divided world opinion. Assange and his supporters say it is being prosecuted for political reasons, something denied by Swedish authorities and Assange's alleged victims, who insist it has nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

Assange, wearing a dark suit and a navy blue tie, posed for photographs outside the court Tuesday but made no public statement. In court, he spoke only to confirm his name and address.

Earlier in the day, his organization released a statement decrying the death threats made against the Australian computer expert, drawing a link between his experience and that of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in an Arizona gun massacre which has touched off a nationwide debate over the toxic tone of U.S. political discourse.

WikiLeaks said its staff has been subject to "unprecedented violent rhetoric by U.S. prominent media personalities," naming former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as one of the many pundits and politicians who have called for Assange to be hunted down like a terrorist.

American officials are still working on building a case against WikiLeaks, which has released hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. intelligence files on Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of U.S. State Department cables.

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