Sketch: Assange loses extradition fight

Protesters outside Belmarsh magistrates court
Protesters outside Belmarsh magistrates court

This article was originally published on Febuary 24th, 2011.

Like a cross between Tintin and Napoleon, Assange sat unmoved in court as he discovered his fate.

By Ian Dunt

It's been a long time since I was in court - not since university, when one of those Iraq protests got out of hand. Less said about that the better, frankly. They're an intensely weird place, the courts. They're like an airport lounge where they escort you away to imprisonment instead of an aircraft. It's the mixture of Costa Coffee and life-changing decisions that does it, I suppose.

Belmarsh magistrates' court quietened sharply when Assange entered. I'd never seen him in the flesh before. A mercurial and aloof figure, wearing a red tie and a preppy scarf, he comes across like some unholy combination of Tintin and Napoleon. It's hard to tell if figures like Assange are enigmatic because of the media frenzy surrounding them or if they're naturally this way. In Assange's case it's probably the latter.

Throughout the ruling, he sat motionless, confident, leaning back on his chair. He was as unaffected as any man I've ever seen, like he was waiting for a train rather than facing extradition to Scandinavia on rape charges. The only discernible reaction to the events before him came after the ruling, when he started to blink a little more frequently. Afterwards, outside the court, he spoke like someone gasping for air, making points which varied between reasonable and deranged. He should talk less and sit unmoved more, I thought, but there'll be plenty of time for that in Sweden.

He was followed into the court by his spectacularly dishevelled lawyer, Mark Stevens. Afterward we were treated to Geoffrey Robertson, who is to the law what Gordon Ramsey is to food: good, but now predominantly a TV star rather than a chef. Robertson retains the supremely self-satisfied manner of the highly successful. Only later, as the judge reached the end of his systematic dismissal of all the defence's arguments, did he reveal a bit of irritation, his fingers snapping apart and together again like fleshy scissors under his chin.

Chief magistrate Howard Riddle ran through his ruling like a manager reading out health and safety regulations. The offence was a crime here and in Sweden, the prosecutor was within her rights to request the extradition, Assange had probably evaded interrogation in Sweden, his Swedish legal defence representative had misled the court, the arguments about being sent to Guantanamo were nonsense and he would get a fair trial in the Scandinavian country. By the time he mentioned the "mutual respect" between European judiciaries, Assange's team must have known it was game over.

There followed some conversation about costs. The prosecution had (unimaginably, to my mind) failed to calculate what they would be. After some legal chatter I didn't understand it was concluded that they either offered a figure there and then (cue frantic eye contact) or forfeit it. Then things got a little chaotic, with sweaty, frenzied conversations between prosecution and defence, a few quick nods from Assange and the telling-off of a BBC man for trying to scarper from the court early. Rather enjoyably, the defence came up with a "notional" cost of £5,000. For notional read: 'panicked but modest guesstimate'.

As I left, the gaggle of protestors and grim-faced coppers were jostling for position outside next to an army of TV cameras. The Assange circus goes on. His supporters should be careful what they loudly presume before a court actually looks into the case. His detractors should realise that no matter what happens to Assange, the technology and methodology are already established. The process of transparency which Wikileaks began will continue, with or without its creator.


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