WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after a Swedish court rejected his request to overturn a nearly four-year-old detention order in a sexual-assault case.
“The court has decided that there is still probable cause concerning the suspicions directed toward Assange,” Stockholm City Court said yesterday after a ruling by Judge Lena Egelin. “There is still a risk that he will fail to appear or in some other way avoid participation in the investigation.”
Assange, 43, sought refuge with Ecuador in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition to face questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation during a 2010 visit to Sweden. The Australian, who says he’s innocent and hasn’t been charged with a crime, has refused to return to the Nordic country citing risks that he will be extradited to the U.S. over the release of secret documents by WikiLeaks.
“We don’t agree with the decision,” Thomas Olsson, one of Assange’s lawyers, told reporters after the ruling. “This means that the decision will be appealed,” Olsson said, adding that he plans to do so “as soon as possible.”
Assange is accused in Sweden of failing to use a condom with one woman and having sex with another while she was asleep. The women, both supporters of WikiLeaks, let him stay at their homes during a speaking tour in 2010.
“My view is that he needs to be available for questioning in Sweden ahead of a potential trial regarding the crimes he is suspected of having committed here,” Marianne Ny, the chief prosecutor, said at a press conference in Stockholm following the judge’s decision. The evidence against Assange “is still strong,” she said,
During the hearing, Assange’s lawyers played video clips featuring U.S. politicians, officials from the Justice Department, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the actions of WikiLeaks in an effort to highlight the risks Assange faces if he travels to Sweden and were to be extradited to the U.S.
“We want to show the court that Assange needs to use his political asylum,” Per Samuelson, a lawyer for Assange, said in court, adding that the Australian isn’t at the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid Swedish law.
WikiLeaks, which started in 2006, leaks classified documents under a philosophy of increasing government transparency. The group drew condemnation from the U.S. for posting thousands of documents on its website, including U.S. communications about foreign governments and military efforts during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One U.S. soldier, Private Bradley Manning, is serving as long as 35 years in prison for providing the group with classified information.
Ny rejected the defense claims that the case was politically motivated.
“We have handled this case in the same way as we would have handled the case if it had involved a Swede as suspected of the crime and that has been a kind of guiding star for us,” Ny said.
The detention order could remain valid until Assange submits to Swedish authorities or the statute of limitations runs out, she said.
“He’s liable for extradition from the U.K. to Sweden should he step outside the embassy,” Julian Knowles, an international criminal lawyer at Matrix Chambers in London, who specializes in extradition law, said of the Swedish court’s decision. “The evidence has been upheld as being sufficient for a trial. He’s caused delay by hiding in the embassy. I’m not too surprised by today’s decision.”