Assange hearing kicks off in London

Julian Assange could face a trial behind closed doors, his lawyer has said during opening arguments over the Wikileaks founder's extradition to Sweden for questioning on sex crimes
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A two-day hearing has begun in London to determine whether Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning on sex-crime allegations.

Julian Assange Wikileaks

Julian Assange appeared in court in London on Monday over whether he should be extradited to Sweden. Photo credit: BBC

On Monday, Assange appeared at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in Woolwich before district judge Howard Riddle. Lawyers for both sides presented their opening arguments in the extradition hearing, which has attracted conspiracy theories suggesting the US government is working through the Swedish authorities to bring Assange into its jurisdiction.

Defence barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC told the court that Assange would face a closed hearing in Sweden if extradited, as is customary in rape trials there.

"Mr Assange... [would] stand trial in Sweden behind closed doors," Robertson said. "The Swedish custom and practice is blatantly unfair by European standards. [One] cannot have a fair trial when the press and public are excluded from the court."

Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities on allegations that he had coercive sex with two women in Sweden in August 2010. Marianne Ny, a public prosecutor in Gothenburg, Sweden, issued a European Arrest Warrant for Assange which was granted by the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in December 2010.

Robertson said that Assange would be unlikely to be granted bail in Sweden should he be extradited and go to trial there. In addition, the Wikileaks founder would be held incommunicado, "perhaps to soften him up for his interrogation", the lawyer suggested. Robertson said Assange would in likelihood be held in remand in Gothenburg, which has been criticised by European authorities for its treatment of remand prisoners.

In its skeleton argument, the defence argued that Assange could be extradited to the US if he was sent to Sweden. At the moment, US prosecutors are looking at whether Assange could be prosecuted on criminal charges over the publication by Wikileaks of confidential US embassy documents.

UK prosecutor Clare Montgomery, who was appearing for the Swedish authorities, told the court that there is no proof that Assange would be sent to the US if extradited to Sweden.

"The threat of extradition to the US featured prominently in [defence] submissions" Montgomery said. "So far as these complaints are concerned, they are dependent upon a factual hypothesis not yet established as being a real risk."

She also noted that the defence assumed that the UK would have no right to intervene in extradition proceedings between the US and Sweden, "whereas, in fact, the UK would be asked for consent" should the procedure take place. Both the UK and Sweden are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, she said, adding that if there is a "threat of a flagrantly unfair trial" in the US, the European Court of Human Rights would intervene.

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