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

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

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TOPICS: Government, Security
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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

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s comments to the Swedish Parliament last week regarding the Assange extradition hearing in London were extremely ill-advised. To defend the bona fides of the Swedish legal system in general terms is one thing, but then to comment on the specific details of an ongoing legal case, including making value judgements about the seriousness or otherwise of the charges, especially when there are no charges as yet, is quite another. How could this do other than prejudice any subsequent trial?

    Julian Assange, despite his frequent protestations regarding the disparity between the financial resources of the Swedish and British Governments to fund a top prosecuting barrister and his own ‘meagre’ resources, has a highly motivated legal team of Geoffrey Robertson QC, Mark Stephens and Jennifer Robinson. They are a hugely powerful trio of civil rights lawyers (just look at their CVs on the internet), very well able to muster powerful legal arguments, peppered by the occasional and very cutting sound bite.

    At the very least, Reinfeldt’s clumsy intervention just serves to demonstrate an unhealthy connection between the Swedish Government and judicial processes, which can only feed the imaginations of those who seek to find deeper underlying political motivations in the prosecution of Assange.

    Let me make one prediction. This Assange extradition case will run and run. Whichever sides wins in the London court on February 24th, the other side will inevitably appeal and complex extradition processes can drag on over many months. For example, the case of Garry McKinnon, whose extradition from the UK has been sought by the US has already gone on for over five years. And even if the Swedish are ultimately successful in securing Assange's extradition, the media circus will just transfer its location.

    Let me be absolutely clear that no one can condone rape, no matter what the circumstances, but the process started by Marienne Ny will increasingly put Sweden under a worldwide and highly critical scrutiny that it will find extremely uncomfortable to endure. The facts of the case will almost be forgotten as international public opinion polarises between libertarians and conservative authoritarianism. It pains those of us who are international friends of many Swedish people to hear their country described, in a recent defence sound bite, as “The Saudi Arabia of radical feminism”. But this is just the beginning. Sweden should be prepared for a very rough ride in the increasingly internet driven world wide media for months to come.
    chrisryland