WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Loses U.K. Appeal Against Extradition

Julian Assange Walking Outside
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Julian Assange, the founder of the Wikileaks whistle blowing website, arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court on January 11, 2011 in London, England. Mr Assange is expected to find out the date of his full extradition hearing to Sweden where he is wanted on sexual offence allegations.

UPDATED: The judgment will be stayed while the Assange legal team evaluates its options to keep him from being sent to Sweden where he faces rape and sexual assault charges.

LONDON -- The U.K. Supreme Court said here early Wednesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden.

Supreme Court president Lord Phillips said the decision to dismiss Assange's appeal was reached in a 5-2 vote, emphasizing that it was not an easy decision. The judgment will be stayed while Assange's legal team examines the case and evaluates its options.

After a British lower court's decision to extradite him last year, Assange called on the country's highest court to avoid having to go to the Scandinavian country where he faces charges of rape and sexual assault. They were brought by two former WikiLeaks volunteers who have accused him of "four offenses of unlawful coercion and sexual misconduct including rape."

The court cited "the great public importance of the issue raised" in deciding to consider the appeal. It was heard by a panel of seven of the 12 Supreme Court justices.

Assange's team had argued that the Swedish public prosecutor who had requested his extradition did not have the judicial authority to do so, saying that only a court or judge can call for an extradition.

But Phillips said that based on the meaning of the French translation of the phrase "judicial authority," which has a wider meaning, a public prosecutor is included in the definition.

A representative for Assange, who was not in court, said his legal team would look at the judgment and evaluate its options. Reports said Assange had planned to be in court for the announcement but was stuck in London morning traffic.

Right after the court decision, TV network ITV cited an Assange lawyer as saying that his legal team could make an application to reopen the case at the U.K. Supreme Court on the basis that the court's decision was made on legal points not argued during the appeal.

Assange also could appeal to the European court of human rights, which would respond within 14 days. The U.K.'s Crown Prosecution Service has said that if the ECHR takes the case, it will not extradite Assange until the case has been heard.

The Australia-born Assange has been under house arrest in the U.K. since December 2010.

Twitter: @georgszalai