Why won’t Theresa May just say clearly if she intends to allow Sweden to extradite Assange to USA?

Interesting article in the Guardian: Julian Assange, and the Ecuadorian government (in whose London embassy Assange has taken refuge for the past five weeks),have no problem per se with extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations. Ecuador, which wants to be an “honest broker” in this matter, is concerned that Sweden will go on to send Assange to the US where he faces possible charges of espionage and a natural life prison sentence for his role in Wikileaks’ publication of “top secret” diplomatic dispatches. Assange’s US lawyer, Michael Ratner, has said he was certain Assange had already either been secretly indicted by a grand jury in Washington or would face extradition with a view to prosecution. He believed the death penalty remained a possibility – which is a major reason why Ecuador opposes the extradition.

According to the Guardian article, there is a concept in extradition law called “specialty”: this means that if the UK extradite Assange to Sweden, the Swedes will not be allowed to extradite him to a third country (such as the USA) once they’ve finished with him – they will have to give him a 45 day grace period during which time he will be allowed to travel somewhere else (perhaps Ecuador). However, specialty can be waived by the country granting the initial extradition request – in this case the UK – thereby allowing an individual to be extradited to a third country. If home secretary Theresa May waives specialty under section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, Sweden will be able to extradite Assange to the USA.

Assange is willing to be extradited to Sweden if specialty is not waivered. But the British government refuses to make this commitment. Instead they keep coming out with non-committal statements like:

Since Mr Assange first entered the Ecuadorean embassy five weeks ago, we have repeatedly made clear to the Ecuadorean government that the UK has a binding legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences. We have been seeking a diplomatic solution and expect Ecuador to resolve this issue in accordance with its international obligations.

The UK courts, including the supreme court, have confirmed that Mr Assange’s extradition to Sweden complies with all the requirements of the UK’s Extradition Act, including as regards the protection of his human rights. We have gone to great lengths to explain to Ecuador the human rights protections inherent in our law.

Britain usually refuses to extradite people to countries where there exists a possibility of cruel and unusual punishment – which includes the death sentence. Of course, if Assange is extradited to Sweden, this principle will have been upheld – Sweden has no plans to execute Assange. But if May waives specialty, she will effectively be sending him to the USA, where cruel and unusual punishment is a distinct possibility (remember, the USA would like to make an example of Assange, a foreigner whose own government doesn’t give a toss for – the US authorities can’t take action against the New York Times or the Guardian, the papers that actually published the leaked documents, because of how that would look in a country that supposedly prides itself on the “freedom of the press” – but destroying Assange would barely raise an eyebrow amongst Americans).

So come on May – tell Ecuador what your plans are regarding specialty in the Assange extradition case. Are you planning to have him sent on to the USA and possible execution? Or are you really just trying to abide by your legal obligations to Sweden?

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