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story.lead_photo.caption Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019.

LONDON -- British lawmakers are pressuring the government to make sure that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces justice in Sweden if prosecutors there reopen a rape investigation against him.

There is mounting belief that Assange should not be allowed to sidestep the investigation stemming from his 2010 visit to Sweden. The complaints from two women eventually led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London rather than return to Sweden for questioning.

Some are calling for the British government to extradite Assange to Sweden, if it makes an official request, rather than to the U.S., which seeks him on conspiracy charges.

More than 70 British lawmakers signed a letter late Friday urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to "do everything you can to champion action that will ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden makes an extradition request."

Prominent Conservative Party lawmaker Alistair Burt, a former Foreign Office minister, said Saturday that it's "quite disturbing" to see the sexual allegations minimized.

He said the testimony of the two women makes it "essential" that Assange face justice, to either be cleared in a Swedish court or be convicted.

Assange, 47, has denied the sexual-misconduct allegations, which he claims are politically motivated. He has said the sex was consensual.

Sweden suspended its investigation into possible sexual misconduct two years ago because Assange was beyond reach while he was living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London with political asylum status. Prosecutors said the investigation could be revived if his situation changed.

Assange was arrested Thursday after Ecuador withdrew his asylum. He is now in Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, waiting to be sentenced for jumping bail in Britain. He faces an extradition request from the United States on charges of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.

WikiLeaks says Assange will fight the U.S. extradition request and has been meeting with his legal team to plan his defense.

He has not had a chance to enter a plea in response to the U.S. charge, but he has said all of his WikiLeaks actions are those of a legitimate journalist.

If Britain receives competing extradition requests, lawyers say, the home secretary would have some leeway in deciding which takes priority. Considerations usually include which request came first and which allegation is more serious.

Most of the lawmakers who signed the letter are from the opposition Labor Party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants Britain to refuse to send Assange to the U.S. After Assange's arrest, Corbyn praised him for exposing U.S. atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan when WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of confidential U.S. documents in 2010.

British politicians are free to lobby the government for a certain course of action, but it's up to the courts to decide whether the U.S. request for Assange's extradition -- and a possible request from Sweden -- should be honored.

The home secretary, a senior Cabinet official, can block extradition under certain circumstances, including cases in which a person might face capital punishment or torture in the country seeking the extradition.

Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into Assange after two women accused him of sexual offenses. Some of the sexual-misconduct accusations can no longer be pursued because their time ran out. But Swedish prosecutors have said a rape case could be reactivated because the statute of limitations for that runs until August 2020.

After Assange's arrest last week, Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson was tapped to look into a request from a lawyer for one of the accusers to find out whether the case can be pursued.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange, said she would "do everything" to have the Swedish case reopened so Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted.

The extradition process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him. It's expected that it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the United States or possibly to Sweden if he ultimately loses in court.

BLACKMAIL PLOT

In Ecuador, a Swedish programmer who was an early supporter of WikiLeaks was arrested in what prosecutors described as a plot to blackmail the country's president over his abandonment of Assange.

But friends of Ola Bini say the encryption expert is being unfairly targeted for his activism on behalf of digital privacy.

On Saturday, prosecutors said they intend to charge Bini in hacking-related crimes and had him ordered detained for up to 90 days while they compile evidence.

The 36-year-old was arrested Thursday at the airport in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, as he prepared to board a flight to Japan. The arrest came just hours after Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Bini was carrying at least 30 electronic storage devices, authorities said.

His lawyers said they have not been notified whether he's been charged. Authorities said the plot hatched with two unidentified Russian hackers living in Ecuador involved threatening to release compromising documents about President Lenin Moreno as he toughened his stance against the WikiLeaks founder.

"It's up to the justice system to determine if he committed a crime," Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said Friday. "But we can't allow Ecuador to become a center for piracy and spying. That period in our history is over."

Romo said Bini had traveled at least 12 times to meet with Assange at the embassy in London. She said he was also in Venezuela earlier this year around the same time as a close aide to Moreno's ex-mentor-turned-enemy, Rafael Correa. The former president granted Assange asylum in 2012 and has been leading a campaign, cheered on by WikiLeaks, to expose alleged corruption by Moreno. The effort has included the release of damaging personal documents and photos, including several that showed him eating lobster in bed.

While the extent of Bini's relationship with Assange is unclear, the Swede has defended the WikiLeaks founder's free-speech rights in an online blog he's kept over the years.

"Any official who has called for Assange to be treated as a terrorist or enemy combatant should be seriously considering stepping down from office," he wrote in December 2010.

In the same blog, Bini condemned Amazon for knocking WikiLeaks off its hosting services and criticized credit card companies and PayPal for refusing to process payments to the secret-spilling site. He also described working on a January 2011 panel about WikiLeaks put on by his then-employer, the global software firm ThoughtWorks.

Friends and loved ones describe Bini as a computer geek who felt most at ease solving complex programming problems for days at a time. At the time of his arrest, he was traveling to Japan for two weeks of jujitsu training -- one of the few hobbies he indulged in outside of his all-consuming work as a code developer, said his former wife, Malin Sandell said.

Bini's Ecuadorean girlfriend said she did not recall him ever expressing strong support for Assange despite the fact that the WikiLeaks founder has deep ties in Sweden and would have been an obvious topic of conversation in the small Ecuadorean programming circles.

"Ola is not a hacker, if by that you mean a criminal, but he is someone trying to understand how computers work and protect people's privacy," Sofia Ramos said in an interview from Brussels.

Ramos worked with Bini on a project at the Center for Digital Autonomy for creating a more secure instant-messaging encryption protocol. In its statement Friday, the center said the online publication Computerworld had ranked him in 2010 as Sweden's No. 6 developer.

The center is a small nonprofit incorporated in Ecuador and Spain. It's dedicated to private, secure and anonymous communication. Its website says it has contributed to well-known projects including Enigmail and the Tor privacy browser.

In the hours before he went to the airport Thursday, Bini sent a tweet warning of a "witch hunt" by Ecuadorean authorities mopping up after Assange's forced departure from the embassy. Now his friends say that prediction appears to have been true.

"I didn't realize that knowing somebody is a crime," said Vijay Prashad, who runs a Marxist publishing house in India and last saw Bini a few months ago in Sao Paulo. "He's the last person who would ever be involved in an attempt to overthrow a government."

Information for this article was contributed by Jan M. Olsen, Joshua Goodman, Frank Bajak, Raphael Satter and Gonzalo Solano of The Associated Press.

A Section on 04/14/2019

Print Headline: Britons call for sending Assange to Sweden if rape case reopens

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Comments

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    April 14, 2019 at 5:41 a.m.

    So to be clear "BRITONS" arent calling for shh, unlike what the head line proclaims.
    As if our kook senator from Chicago who thinks Guam is gonna flip upside down and you say,
    "all americans think guam could capsize"
    youre full of horseshh and grasping at straws

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