LONDON — Britain's Supreme Court has endorsed the extradition of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange to Sweden, an important turning point in the Internet activist's controversial career.
Assange, 40, has spent the better part of two years fighting attempts to send him to the Scandinavian nation, where he is accused of sex crimes. The U.K. end of that struggle appeared to come to a messy conclusion Wednesday, with the nation's highest court ruling five to two that the warrant seeking his arrest was properly issued — and Assange's lawyer arguing that the case should be reopened.
Supreme Court President Nicholas Phillips, speaking for the majority, acknowledged that Assange's case "has not been simple to resolve," but that the court had concluded that "the request for Mr. Assange's extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed."
Assange won't be extradited immediately no matter what happens. His lawyer, Dinah Rose, stood up after the verdict to say that the decision was based on evidence that was not argued during the appeal and requested time to study the verdict further with an eye toward trying to reopen the case.
Phillips said he would give Rose two weeks to make her move.
Even if the Supreme Court refuses to reopen the case, Assange could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, although extradition experts have said that route wasn't likely to block his removal to Sweden in the long run.
Assange is best known for revealing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents, including a hard-to-watch video that captured U.S. forces gunning down a crowd of Iraqi civilians and journalists that they'd mistaken for insurgents. His release of a quarter-million classified State Department cables outraged Washington and destabilized American diplomacy worldwide.
But his secret-spilling work came under a cloud after two Swedish women accused him of molestation and rape following a visit to the country in mid-2010. Assange denies wrongdoing, saying the sex was consensual, but has refused to go to Sweden, claiming he doesn't believe he'll get a fair trial there.
Swedish lawyer Claes Borgstrom, who represents the two women who accuse Assange of sex crimes, expressed relief at the Supreme Court's decision, but said the British judicial system should have dealt with the case more quickly.
"I think they should have resolved this earlier," Borgstrom told The Associated Press, adding that the long wait had been stressful for his clients.