In November 2010, a request was made by Sweden to have Julian Assange extradited from the UK to Sweden, to face charges of rape brought against him.

Julian Assange turned himself in to the UK police and was held for 10 days, before being released on bail. In August 2012, he sought and was granted asylum by Ecuador. He has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from August 2012 until April 2019, when his asylum was revoked by Ecuador, after which he was arrested by the UK for breaking the terms of his bail. The investigation by Sweden had already been dropped in May 2017.

It has been stated, both by Assange and his followers, that they fear the charges against him and the accompanying extradition request, may be used to have him extradited to the USA, via Sweden.

Regardless the validity of the charges and the veracity of the victims' statements, why would a detour through Sweden be necessary? The USA and the UK have much closer relations than the USA have with Sweden.

Why couldn't Assange have been extradited to the USA directly from the UK?

I have no doubt the USA would like to get their hands on Assange, but is there something in international law that I'm overlooking?
Does he need to be convicted in Sweden first, before the USA are able to get him extradited to them? I can't really imagine Sweden getting him convicted first and then deliver him to the USA, wrapped up and tied up with a bow.
Is there something to be gained from a Swedish detour?


2 Answers 2


The question presupposes that Assange fears extradition. There's an alternative narrative that is more compatible with the facts at hand.

Assange's role in politics is not a role of power, but of persuasion. This is a inherently a soft power. This power is not measured in tanks, but in the attitude of the world versus Assange.

Assange faces a real and dramatic loss in soft power if he is convicted for rape in Sweden. As a convict, his opinion on world matters becomes much less relevant. Soft power depends on having a mass appeal, and sufficiently many people have a dislike for criminals, even if intellectually speaking Assanges opinions on world matters are independent from his personal misbehavior.

By framing his opposition to his rape trial in terms of a battle against the USA, he is diverting attention away from himself and onto another party. Since we're dealing with matters of public opinion, it only matters if this framing appears to be believable. The small fact that extradition from Sweden isn't legally possible (*) does not matter for this framing.

(*) Extradition from Sweden to the USA is only possible for cases that fall under the terms of their extradition treaty. Treason isn't one of them, and indeed the UK could extradite for the same reasons as Sweden.

  • "indeed the UK could extradite for the same reasons as Sweden." should be "couldn't", I think? Also, do you happen to have a reference for that?
    – user11249
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:40
  • @Carpetsmoker: No, I meant what I wrote there. The UK can extradite for roughly the same reasons (same crimes) as Sweden. Murder, yes, treason, no. But basically I have a small problem in providing a reference to something that's doesn't exist (a treaty that would allow the extradition of Assange from Sweden to the USA for treason).
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:47
  • Oh, the way I read it is as "the UK could extradite Assange", rather than "the UK's terms for extradition are the same as Sweden". Hence my confusion in what you meant. Maybe that's just me :-)
    – user11249
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:52
  • 1
    As for the reference, I assume there's a treaty which lists reasons for extradition, a list which doesn't include treason? But you're right that this doesn't disprove that there may be a second treaty which allows such a thing.
    – user11249
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:54
  • 2
    @Carpetsmoker: Indeed. Assange has been hinting that there might even be a secret second treaty, IIRC. But even that wouldn't matter, as such a secret treaty wouldn't fly with the judicial system. You can construct quite a few narratives, but the problem is that none of them are both internally consistent and also consistent with the UK extraditing to Sweden instead of extraditing to the USA. "Narratives" may not be the strongest analytical tool, but we're forced a bit here by the wording of the question. Is Assange truly afraid? We can't stick a needle in him and measure his stress hormones.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:04

Really it boils down to a combination of things which create part of the puzzle here. Extradition isn't as simple as "hey mate, send him over" even with such close allies as the UK. Here there are a couple of examples where the UK didn't extradite. It's in their treaty that the UK can choose not to extradite if there is a high risk of the person's life ending, which is almost a guarantee in this situation.

That being said, the UK has not said explicitly that there IS an agreement to extradite while at the same time not saying that there ISN'T an agreement. I only mention this part to highlight the fact that the UK very much may extradite him first chance they get. However, they weren't able hold him on any charges way back when he originally got asylum in Ecuador. Assange further this point in his web interviews by saying:

"I’m 100 percent confident that I would not be a free person because the British government has said, regardless of whether the Swedes drop the case or not, they’re going to arrest me. The UK government also refuses to confirm or deny whether there is already a US extradition request."

The Swedes on the other hand have extradited every candidate to the USA since 2010. Also the Swedes have (had) an existing order of extradition which is to say the ball is already rolling on that front.

I understand this doesn't fully answer the question but it sheds more light on it while being too long for a comment.

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