Defence: Assange is Sweden's 'public enemy number one'

Summary:Comments made by Sweden's prime minister have created a 'toxic atmosphere' against Assange in the country, the Wikileaks editor's defence has argued at an extradition hearing

Julian Assange has been 'vilified' by the Swedish prime minister, whose remarks have affected the Wikileaks editor's chances of getting a fair trial in Sweden, a court heard on Friday.

Assange enemy Sweden

Julian Assange is "public enemy number one" in Sweden, according to his defence lawyers. Photo credit: CBS News

Defence barrister Geoffrey Robertson said at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court that comments made by Fredrik Reinfeldt on women's rights and Assange's extradition hearing had "created a toxic atmosphere" for the Wikileaks founder.

"[Assange] has been denounced as an enemy of the people, and one doesn't have to know Ibsen to know what impact that could have in the fairness of his trial," Robertson said. "[Assange] is public enemy number one as a result of the prime minister's statement."

The Swedish Wire published a report with Reinfeldt criticising claims by Assange's lawyers on Tuesday. "It is unfortunate that women's rights and standpoint is taken so lightly when it comes to this kind of question, compared to other types of theories presented," the Swedish prime minister is quoted as saying.

Reinfeldt's comments followed evidence in court on Monday from defence witness Brita Sundberg-Weitman, who alleged that Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who is pushing for Assange's extradition, is biased against men.

UK prosecutor Clare Montgomery, acting for the Swedish authorities, responded in court that Reinfeldt's remarks had not been inflammatory. "In so far as the characterisation [of the case] as a vilification of Mr Assange, as far as I've read, it does nothing of the sort," she said.

We've reached a stage where this court needs to reach a decision.

– Howard Riddle, chief magistrate

Montgomery said the Assange defence had courted the media. "Those that fan the flames of the media shouldn't be surprised if they get burnt," she added.

In front of the press outside court on Tuesday, Assange's solicitor Mark Stephens challenged Ny to come to London to be cross-examined by Robertson at the hearing.

Inside the hearing, the defence has tried to establish through a number of witnesses that Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for questioning. The defence team has suggested that there have been procedural inconsistencies in the way the case has been dealt with by the Swedish authorities, and that the women bringing complaints against Assange are seeking revenge

Friday is the third day of the hearing at Woolwich in London, which also ran on Monday and Tuesday. In view of Reinfeldt's comments, Robertson asked chief magistrate Howard Riddle to adjourn part of the proceedings until March, so that the hearing could examine the putative fairness of a Swedish trial. Riddle declined to do so.

"In a case such as this, there seem likely always to be further developments... I propose to refuse [the request]," Riddle said. "I believe we've reached a stage where this court needs to reach a decision."

Riddle indicated he would not make the extradition decision on Friday. "I will hear [proceedings] today, and retire in due course to give my decision," he said.

Assange has been bailed until the next hearing, which will be on 24 February.

Whatever the ruling is, Riddle said he expects there will be an appeal "by whichever side feels aggrieved by the decision".


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Topics: Government, Security

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Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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