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JULIAN Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, will appeal against a decision to allow his extradition to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault charges, his lawyer confirmed last night.

Magistrate Howard Riddle granted the extradition request despite attempts by Assange’s legal team, led by Geoffrey Robertson, QC, to pick technical holes in the arrest warrant.

In handing down the decision at Belmarsh Magistrates Court in south-east London, Judge Riddle said the warrant was valid and there was no reason to expect Assange would not have a fair trial in Sweden.

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After the hearing, Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said his client would appeal the decision and take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

He attacked the judge’s decision, saying ”it reaffirms the concerns that we had about the form of tick-box justice that is the EU Arrest Warrant”. He added: ”What the judge has done is confirm that the system is just that.”

He said Assange was still hopeful the case could be resolved in the UK. Assange’s bail conditions are expected to be upheld.

The judge described Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, as an unreliable witness, saying he had misled the court about attempts to contact Assange to arrange questioning by the Swedish prosecution while Assange was in Sweden late September. He also said there was reason to suggest that Assange was ”deliberately avoiding interrogation before he left Sweden”.

Assange’s defence team had argued the adverse publicity surrounding the case, and public criticism of Assange by the Swedish Prime Minister, would mean he would not receive a fair trial if charged in Sweden.

But Judge Riddle said: ”I think it is highly unlikely that any comment has been made with a view to interfere with the course of public justice.”

He added: ”I am absolutely satisfied that no such comments will have any impact on the decisions of the courts, either here or in Sweden.”

During hearings earlier this month, Mr Robertson questioned the authority of the Swedish prosecutor to issue a European arrest warrant.

He also raised doubts over whether the acts, which are alleged to have been committed in Stockholm against two women in August last year, even constituted criminal offences.

Mr Robertson also claimed Assange could face the death penalty if extradited from Sweden to the US, where he is wanted for publishing leaked US diplomatic cables and other sensitive documents from governments and other organisations via the WikiLeaks website.

But Judge Riddle found the Swedish prosecutor did have jurisdiction to issue the warrant.

He said he was satisfied that the four alleged offences, of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, were extradition offences.

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