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Nations Braced for 'Hacklash' as Assange Verdict Looms

by Mark Hughes and Jerome Taylor

Julian Assange will today learn if he is to be extradited to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations. The WikiLeaks founder's legal team has said it is already preparing an appeal in anticipation of the judge's decision going against him.

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, in southeast London, on February 24. Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault claims, a British judge ruled after dismissing arguments that he would face an unfair trial. (AFP/Ben Stansall) Mr Assange will learn his fate shortly after 10am today at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court when Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle delivers his judgment. Mark Stephens, Mr Assange's solicitor, said last night that his team was already preparing for the worst. "Both sides, the prosecution and the defence, have told the judge that they are going to appeal if they lose, so we are already working on that principle," he said.

Mr Stephens's comments came after a barrister with specialist knowledge of extradition law said it was "very likely" that the senior district judge will order Mr Assange's extradition. Julian Knowles, a barrister from Matrix, the same chambers as Clare Montgomery, who is prosecuting on behalf of the Swedish authorities in the Assange hearing, told BBC Radio 4's Law in Action: "From what I have read and heard about the Assange extradition hearing, it is very likely that the Swedish prosecutor will prevail and extradition will be ordered."

During a three-day hearing this month, Mr Assange's legal team argued that he should not be sent to Sweden, because Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor who signed the European Arrest Warrant, was not authorized to do so. They said a warrant could not be exercised against Mr Assange because he was wanted for questioning and not prosecution.

Mr Knowles has written books on extradition law and is currently representing Shrien Dewani in his fight to avoid extradition to South Africa, where he is wanted on suspicion of murdering his wife. He said: "There is no doubt that a Swedish prosecutor does have the power to issue warrants. And the Swedish prosecutor has made it clear that Mr Assange is wanted for trial if he goes back. Unless he can demonstrate his innocence before trial, he will be tried."

If Mr Assange does lose his extradition bid his supporters, particularly those online, are likely to begin targeting the UK. This month Anonymous, the "hacktivist" collective behind pro-WikiLeaks cyber protests, declared war on Britain after five people were arrested for cyber attacks carried out by the loosely defined organization. Anonymous has called on supporters to flood British government websites with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, a relatively simple method of shutting down a website by flooding it with requests for information. The threat was taken seriously enough for GovCertUK, the information security agency, to issue an advisory notice urging government websites to take precautions against the attacks.

Any appeal process on Mr Assange's behalf will eat heavily into already depleted WikiLeaks finances. The site is now faced with having to fund both its own whistle-blowing work and protracted legal battles in at least three countries – the US, UK and Sweden.

WikiLeaks has decided to cash in on its global notoriety by opening up an online shop to sell branded T-shirts, mugs, hoodies and bumper stickers. Shirts designs usually involve Mr Assange's face. One features a black and white portrait of the transparency campaigner in a style similar to the iconic portrait of the revolutionary Che Guevara, next to the words "Viva La Informacion". The shop, run by German merchandising company Spreadshirt AG, says all proceeds from sales will be given to WikiLeaks.

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