Assange Attack on Sweden, Prosecutor May Give Appearance of `Mud Slinging'
Julian Assange’s U.K. lawyers, seeking to block the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition to Sweden on rape claims, may have chosen the wrong tactic by criticizing Swedish justice and labeling the prosecutor behind the case as a “radical feminist,” lawyers say.
Witnesses at hearings last week in London said Swedish rape trials are secretive and portrayed prosecutor Marianne Ny as a “crusader” on gender issues who had a hand in shaping Sweden’s “harsh” rape laws. The tactic may be a sign of desperation and is unlikely to stop Assange’s extradition, said Neill Blundell, a lawyer with Eversheds LLP in London.
Bashing Sweden could be “an attempt to deflect attention” from Europe’s cross-border arrest process, which is difficult to avoid when warrants are issued from stable countries, Blundell said in an interview. “We’re not dealing with some dictatorship in an African state; we’re talking about Sweden, which has a highly respected judicial system.”
Assange, 39, is fighting extradition after being arrested and released on bail in London in December. The allegations, made by two Swedish women who each hosted Assange overnight at their homes in August, were revealed as WikiLeaks drew condemnation for posting thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents on its website.
District Judge Howard Riddle said he may take two weeks to make a decision. Another hearing is set for Feb. 24. Assange remains free on bail.
Swedish Prime Minister
During three days of hearings last week, Assange’s lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, introduced evidence of repeated mistakes by Ny in the arrest process and questioned the political motivation of her and other prosecutors on the case.
On the last day of the hearing, Robertson expanded his attack to include the country’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, saying he had used a speech to turn Assange into “public enemy number one.”
Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a Swedish lawyer and former judge, testified that Ny prefers to throw male abusers in prison before their alleged victims determine whether they had been mistreated. She also called another Swedish lawyer in the case, Claes Borgstrom, an “ultra-radical feminist” and said both lawyers played an active role in amending Swedish law to make it more favorable toward women.
“Although some reforms have been welcome, there is concern that others are actually producing unfairness and discrimination against men,” Sundberg-Weitman said.
Another of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Stephens, said after the hearing that Ny should come to London herself and testify. Ny’s office has declined to comment on the claims made about her in witness statements. Stephens regularly represents media organizations including Bloomberg News.
Robertson has also said that the acts Assange is accused of wouldn’t be considered crimes in Britain. The Swedish warrant covers one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, including claims that Assange in August failed to use a condom after being asked to do so. In a separate incident, he is accused of engaging in sex while another woman was asleep.
While such an approach may be “tactically astute” if it damages a prosecutor’s credibility, Robertson may have gone too far by attacking Borgstrom, a politician with the Social Democrat party, said Dan Hyde, a lawyer with Cubism Law in London.
“Credibility attacks have to be selective and cautious,” Hyde said. “The danger in launching a similar attack on the other lawyer is that unless it’s utterly convincing, it gives the appearance of a mud-slinging strategy.”
Swedish lawyers said the country’s rape laws are increasingly designed to protect women.
“Extreme feminism has taken over more and more” in Swedish society, said Peter Haglund, a defense lawyer who has represented more than 150 accused rapists since 1985. “Men are seen as fundamentally evil.”
The claims likely will not convince a judge to go against a well-established procedure like the European arrest warrant, said Peter Watson, a lawyer with Allen & Overy LLP in London.
“If there are underlying facts warranting a prosecution, it matters not to the English courts if the prosecutor is a crusader, man-hater or from Mars,” Watson said in an interview.
Claiming Assange won’t get a fair trial in Sweden “is really the least promising line of attack,” said Dan Hooper, a lawyer with Reynolds Porter Chamberlain in London. Certain attacks on Ny were also undermined on cross-examination by the U.K. prosecutor, he said.
“It’s unlikely that this case is going to be resolved in favor of Mr. Assange, either on the basis that he doesn’t have a chance of getting a fair trial or that the prosecution is in the hands of a mad woman,” Hyde said. “The judge will be inclined to think that she wouldn’t be in the position if she wasn’t competent.”
Even if the attack on Swedish justice fails to block the extradition, Assange’s legal team still shed light on potential problems with the European arrest warrant, Blundell said, including its use to arrest someone for questioning.
“The lawyers have been effective in bringing to the court’s attention some discrepancies in the European arrest warrant,” Blundell said.
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