WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault, a British court ruled on Thursday, rejecting arguments that he would face an unfair trial there.
Delivering verdict in a packed Belmarsh's Magistrates court, Judge Howard Riddle said: "I must order that Mr Assange be extradited to Sweden."
"Swedish prosecutors' request that Assange be handed over was valid and reasonable for their investigation into allegations that he sexually abused two women last August," the judge said as 39-year-old Assange, wearing a dark suit and tie, sat stony-faced in the dock.
Assange, who denies the charges, will appeal against the ruling, delivered following a hearing two weeks ago. His supporters stood outside the courthouse, waving signs proclaiming his innocence.
Assange has been in the international spotlight for months, since his whistle-blowing website released thousands of US government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on American diplomatic communications around the world.
He maintains that the sex-crimes allegations against him are part of a politically motivated smear campaign. His lawyers also contend that extraditing him to Sweden would merely be a prelude to sending him to the US, where government prosecutors are investigating the possibility of espionage charges.
The accusations against him stem from separate encounters with two women in Stockholm last summer. They alleged that he refused to wear a condom during sex despite their requests; one of the women also said he began having sex with her while she was still asleep and therefore unable to give her consent.
Under Sweden's strict laws on sexual assault, those allegations amount to molestation and a form of rape, and could carry a prison sentence of several years. Assange acknowledges having sex with the women but argued it was consensual.
He surrendered to police in London in December after Britain received an arrest warrant from Sweden. After a brief time in London's Wandsworth prison, he was given bail, but only on condition that he spend his nights at a supporter's country estate and wear an electronic monitor.
His movements are relatively unrestricted during the day, and he has full access to the Internet. Assange has said that the work of WikiLeaks is continuing in spite of his "mansion arrest," and he has come to London to attend events at the Frontline Club, a journalists' hangout.
During the hearing, Assange's defence team argued that Swedish prosecutors did not have the authority to issue the European arrest warrant and that what he is alleged to have done would not count as serious crimes under British law.
Assange's attorneys also called a witness who portrayed the chief prosecutor in the case as a radical feminist with a vendetta against men. Stating that extraditing Assange to Sweden would not breach his human rights, the judge said, "Assange would have to answer the allegations in Sweden."
He also disagreed with defence lawyers' claims that what Assange is accused of doing would not actually amount to rape in this country. And he dismissed the argument that the whistleblower would not receive a fair trial, despite a certain amount of negative publicity surrounding the case.
This publicity includes allegedly damaging comments said to have been made by the Swedish prime minister about Assange.
Judge Riddle said: "The defence refer to the alleged denigration of the defendant by the Swedish prime minister. "For this reason and other reasons it is said Assange will not receive a fair trial. I don't accept this was the purpose of the comment or the effect."
Assange will appeal against the ruling at the High Court, his barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC told the court in legal argument.