Assange faces 'denial of justice': lawyer

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would face a "flagrant denial of justice" if extradited to Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation, his lawyer told a court Monday.

The 39-year-old Australian could face the death penalty if extradited to the United States on separate charges relating to WikiLeaks, his lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said at the start of a two-day hearing in London.

Swedish prosecutors want to question the whistleblowing website's chief over allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women in Sweden, moves which Assange claims are politically motivated.

In his opening arguments at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in southeast London, Robertson said a rape trial in Sweden would violate Assange's human rights.

"He would be tried behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice," he told a packed courtroom.

"The Swedish custom and practice of throwing the press and public out of court when rape trials begin is one that we say is blatantly unfair, not only by British standards but also by European standards," Robertson said.

Assange's lawyers were also expected to argue that the extradition request is unacceptable because he has not been charged with any crime.

Wearing a dark blue suit and tie, the former computer hacker spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth at the start of the proceedings.

The judge is expected to defer his ruling until later this month.

If the decision goes against Assange, he will be able to appeal all the way to England's supreme court.

Having won worldwide notoriety for his website's release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, Assange insists his real fear is that Washington will try to persuade Sweden to pass him on to American authorities.

Robertson claimed that any trial in Sweden would be held "in secret" and that he would be held "without bail in conditions that have been condemned by the European Commission".

He also argued that a rape charge would not count as rape under European law.

"The court cannot accept the charge of rape is correctly identified, that that box has been ticked, because what is rape in Swedish law does not amount to rape in any other country," he said.

"The prosecutor describes this charge as 'minor rape'. That is a contradiction in terms, rape is not a minor offence."

The three molestation charges relating to Assange's other accuser were also "plainly wrong" because the woman had consented to sex, he told the court.

But Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish authorities, said the arrest warrant alleges that Assange had sexual intercourse with one of the women "improperly exploiting the fact that she was asleep; and that Assange was aware it was the express wish that a condom be used."

Talk of extradition to the United States "depends on a factual hypothesis that has not yet been established as being real", Montgomery said.

Called as a defence witness, a retired former Swedish appeals court judge said the case had been "from the beginning extremely peculiar".

Brita Sundberg-Weitman said Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who is handling the allegations, had a "rather biased view against men".

"I honestly can't understand her attitude (towards the Assange case). It looks malicious," she said.

Assange, who was arrested in London in December 7, faces a widening criminal probe in the United States and has made powerful enemies in Washington.

He was released on bail a week after his arrest and has been staying at a supporter's country mansion under strict conditions including that he obey a curfew, wear an electronic tag and report to police daily.

After releasing hundreds of thousands of confidential US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan last year, WikiLeaks has in recent months been slowly publishing more than 250,000 leaked US diplomatic cables.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article