WikiLeaks’ Assange Faces Secret Swedish Rape Trial

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, in south-east London. Photographer: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be unfairly tried in secret in Sweden if extradited from Britain to face questioning over sexual-assault allegations, his lawyer told a U.K. judge.

Assange’s right to “open justice” will be breached if he is subjected to a closed trial in Sweden -- typical for rape cases in the country -- his lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, told a judge in London today. He said there had been a “media campaign” against Assange in Sweden.

“It is likely that he will be tried secretly in Sweden, behind closed doors,” Robertson said. “You cannot have a fair trial when the press and public are excluded from the court, and the Swedish custom is to exclude them.”

The alleged sexual misconduct, which two Swedish women claim took place in August, was revealed as WikiLeaks drew condemnation for posting thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic communications. Assange’s lawyers are fighting the extradition and claim the case may be politically motivated.

“A process like this surely helps you understand who your friends are,” Assange said outside court after the hearing. The 39-year-old Australian said he had been “condemned for the last five-and-a-half months” by the allegations and that he would eventually be exonerated.

Goran Rudling, a Swede who campaigns to strengthen Sweden’s rape laws, testified at the hearing on behalf of Assange, saying he discovered one of the victims made complimentary comments about Assange on her Twitter Inc. account after the alleged attack and then deleted them after she went to the police.

Secret Documents

WikiLeaks, which has two servers housed in a mountain cavity in Stockholm, is an organization that publishes secret government and corporate documents online. Prosecutors say the rape case has nothing to do with the website’s activities.

Robertson also said the rape claim wouldn’t have qualified as rape in other European countries. In court papers, Robertson said Assange can only be extradited if the alleged acts are also illegal in the U.K.

“What is in Swedish law ‘minor rape’ does not amount to rape in any other European country,” Robertson said. “The charge does not meet the European law standard concept of rape.”

U.K. prosecutors, who are arguing on behalf of Sweden, told the judge today Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who issued the arrest warrant for Assange, was within her authority, rejecting one of Robertson’s defenses. The warrant prompted Assange to turn himself in to London police in December.

‘A Direct Challenge’

“Some of the arguments presented by Mr. Assange represent a direct challenge to the reliability and fairness of proceedings,” U.K. prosecutor Clare Montgomery said at the hearing. The Swedish prosecutor “has the power to issue a warrant,” she said.

District Judge Howard Riddle at Woolwich Crown Court may give his decision as soon as tomorrow. Ny started her investigation on Sept. 1, after another prosecutor dropped the rape charge and reduced the molestation charges.

Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a retired Swedish judge who is now an academic, said in testimony at today’s hearing that the legal process in the Assange case in Sweden has been “extremely peculiar.”

The atmosphere in Sweden toward Assange is “rather hostile,” Sundberg-Weitman said. “Most people take it for granted that he has raped two women,” she said of Assange.

‘Biased’ Against Men

The former judge also said Ny, the Swedish prosecutor, is “biased” against men in cases involving sexual offenses.

“She is so preoccupied with battered women and raped women that she has lost balance,” Sundberg-Weitman said.

Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman at the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office, declined to comment on Assange’s case specifically or claims that Ny is biased. She said it is common practice in Sweden for trials involving children or sexual misconduct to be held behind closed doors.

“It’s not in the law that this must be so, but up to the court to decide in each individual case,” she said by telephone.

The U.K. prosecutor, Montgomery, also challenged claims by Assange’s lawyers that the arrest warrant had been misused because Swedish prosecutors hadn’t yet decided to charge him. Assange’s lawyers argued the warrants aren’t supposed to be used for questioning alone.

Interrogation “is a necessary next step in the Swedish process,” Montgomery said. “It does not undermine or deny the stated purpose of the warrant -- that it is for prosecution.”

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