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What's next for Julian Assange?

Julian Assange just after his release on bail in London, Thursday 16 December, 2010.
Julian Assange just after his release on bail in London, Thursday 16 December, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Julian Assange has been released on bail in London
  • Main issue for Assange is whether to waive extradition to Sweden, CNN legal analyst says
  • British courts will investigate before turning Assange over to Sweden, Jeffrey Toobin says
  • Toobin: U.S. cannot request extradition until it charges Assange with a crime

(CNN) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released on bail Thursday in London, nine days after he was arrested for questioning about alleged sex crimes in Sweden.

Assange, 39, handed himself over to police and is now free on bail -- some of the conditions of his release include reporting daily to a local police station and wearing an electronic tag.

CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin attempts to untangle Assange's legal travails.

Q: So, now that he's been released, what's next?

A: The next hearing in the case is scheduled for January 11, 2011, when the detail of Sweden's extradition request will be heard. The full hearing is likely to include detailed arguments that the warrant issued by Sweden is invalid. Assange says he cooperated with the Swedish authorities and got their permission to leave the country, he says he is fighting the extradition attempts on principle, and not because he is guilty. Sweden wants to try him on the sex charges which stem from allegations from two women.

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Q: Assange's attorney, Jennifer Robinson, told CNN that his legal team is fighting extradition requests from Sweden because British courts are more protective of free speech and press freedom, and Swedish courts are more likely to extradite Assange to the U.S. Do you agree?

A: I can't say for sure, but extradition in the UK is not a rubber stamp. The British Courts will investigate thoroughly before turning Assange over to the Swedes.

Q: Many of his supporters and some analysts say the extradition request is politically motivated. Is this true?

It's very hard to say whether the extradition was politically motivated. Sweden has strict laws regarding sexual assault, so it is not surprising that they are seeking to enforce them here. It's really a poor idea to judge what went on in the course of these alleged assaults based on fragmentary reports in the media. These kinds of issues need to be resolved in the courts.

Q: Does Julian Assange's arrest in Great Britain make it easier for him to be extradited to the United States?

A: It certainly makes it easier than if he were still at large and the U.S. would have to track him down.

Q: If Assange is extradited to the U.S., what legal action could the Department of Justice take against him? What would likely happen to him once he's on U.S. soil?

A: First, there would be a charge, and then extradition, not extradition before charge. The most likely charge is unauthorized distribution of classified information, or possibly the Espionage Act. Assange has a serious First Amendment argument that he is just like a newspaper publisher who receives a classified leak and thus should not be punished. I don't think that argument will prevail, but it's a serious one and it might.

Q: If you were representing Assange, what are the first three things you would do?

A: Find out what the facts are surrounding the way WikiLeaks obtained the State Department documents. Make a deal with the Swedes so there's no jail time for Assange. Try to rally support among moderates who are concerned about the freedom of speech issues in his case.

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