Wikileaks' Julian Assange 'would be denied justice'

Julian Assange: "A black box applied to my life with the word rape on it is now being opened"

There is a risk of "denial of justice" if Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is tried for rape in Sweden, his lawyer has told a UK extradition hearing.

Geoffrey Robertson QC also said his client could face the death penalty if then sent to the US on charges relating to the whistleblowing website.

But prosecutors rejected suggestions the Swedish legal system did not have safeguards against such a "violation".

Mr Assange, 39, denies claims of sexual assault against two women.

At Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Mr Assange's lawyers accused the prosecutor in Sweden attempting to extradite Mr Assange of having a "biased view" against men.

They said he was "willing and able" to co-operate with Swedish authorities, so no arrest warrant was needed.

'Trial by media'

They said the European Arrest Warrant under which he had been detained was invalid because he had not yet been charged.

Mr Robertson told the court Swedish rape trials were regularly "tried in secret behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice".

He said there was a risk his client may be extradited to the US, or even Guantanamo Bay, and could face the death penalty as a result.

However, Clare Montgomery QC, representing the Swedish authorities, said the country provided "protection against that sort of threat and violation" taking place.

She said the European Court of Human Rights would intervene if Mr Assange was to face the prospect of "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial" in the US.

In a document released by Mr Assange's defence team, his lawyers argued:

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Court heard Assange was in Sweden for five weeks and wasn't questioned by prosecutors. This shouldn't have happened, says witness”

End Quote BBC's Anna Adams tweeting from court
  • Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny is "not eligible" or an appropriate "judicial authority" to issue a European Arrest Warrant
  • The Swedes are guilty of an "abuse of process" as they have not demonstrated any intention to charge or prosecute Mr Assange
  • The application for a warrant is "disproportionate" as he is willing to co-operate and be interviewed by phone, e-mail or videolink
  • The arrest warrant paperwork is not valid as it does not "unequivocally" state that he is wanted for prosecution
  • The offences Mr Assange faces - unlawful coercion and sexual molestation - are not criminal acts under British law; and
  • Extraditing Mr Assange to Sweden would be a "real risk of a flagrant denial of justice" and a "blatant breach" of British constitutional principles.

Mr Robertson also said the extensive press coverage surrounding events risked a "trial by media".

Analysis

One of the arguments Mr Assange's lawyers will raise concerns what is known as "double" or "dual criminality". This principle ensures that no one is extradited unless the allegations against them from the requesting state, amount to a criminal offence in English law.

His lawyers will argue that the first three allegations which cover unlawful coercion and sexual molestation do not constitute an offence under English law.

The equivalent offence would be sexual assault, which requires a lack of consent. It will be argued that the arrest warrant doesn't allege a lack of consent.

Double criminality, however, doesn't apply in the case of the fourth allegation, rape.

This is one of the list of offences under the European Arrest Warrant framework where the extraditing country has simply to tick a box.

Mr Assange's lawyers will seek to argue double criminality here by reference to European law, but it may prove a difficult argument to win.

He also attacked the conditions Mr Assange could be held in if extradited to Sweden, saying the remand prison in Gothenburg had been criticised for its treatment of foreign prisoners.

Retired Swedish appeal court judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman, who was called as a witness, attacked Mr Assange's treatment by the authorities.

Talking about the prosecutor Marianne Ny, she said: "She seems to take it for granted that everybody under prosecution is guilty. I think she is so preoccupied with the situation of battered women and raped women that she has lost balance."

A second witness, Goran Rudling, told the court one of the alleged victims had deleted comments and Tweets that suggested she was still friendly with Mr Assange after the alleged assault.

Ms Montgomery argued the Australian must face questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation following the accusation of two women.

She told the court rape is one of 32 offences that warrants extradition, and Mr Assange was accused of having sex with one woman without a condom, despite her saying she would only consent if he wore one.

The other woman's claims implicitly suggested a lack of consent, she added.

"Mr Assange, by using violence, forced Miss A to endure him restricting her freedom of movement, taking hold of her arms, forcefully spreading her legs and lying on top of her," she said.

"Violently forcing yourself on someone and causing them to endure your lying on top of them can only be understood as violent, unlawful coercion, as action taken without... consent."

Pirate Party UK leader Loz Kaye says the allegations against Mr Assange are "trumped up"

She also said Swedish prosecutor Ms Nye was authorised to issue the arrest warrant and said Mr Assange was wanted for prosecution not merely interrogation.

The whistle-blowing website has been used to publish leaked US diplomatic cables, as well as other sensitive material from governments and high-profile organisations.

Mr Assange appeared at court under an intense media spotlight, supported by a number of high-profile campaigners including Bianca Jagger, Jemima Khan and veteran politician Tony Benn.

Speaking following the first day of the hearing, he said a "black box has been applied to my life and on the outside of that box has been written rapist".

He said this was his opportunity to show in open court that the box was empty.

The Australian had his bail conditions amended so he could leave his adopted home in Norfolk to spend the night in Paddington, west London.

Several witnesses are expected to be called to court on Tuesday, and district judge Howard Riddle may yet reserve his judgement to a later date.

Mr Assange was released on bail by a High Court judge just before Christmas after spending nine days in Wandsworth prison.

He denies sexually assaulting two female supporters during a visit to Stockholm in August and claims the inquiry is politically motivated.

The hearing is expected to last two days.

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