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 further extradited to the United States on separate charges relating to WikiLeaks, his lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said at the start of a two-day extradition hearing in London.

Swedish prosecutors want to question the whistleblowing website's chief over allegations he raped one woman in Sweden and molested another, moves which Assange claims are politically motivated.

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 the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court.

"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 added.

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

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.

At the end of the first day's evidence, Assange claimed that a "black box" of accusations against him was being opened to inspection.

"On the outside of that black box has been written the word 'rape'. That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened," he told reporters.

"I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it."

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 (Swedish) prosecutor describes this charge as 'minor rape'. That is a contradiction in terms, rape is not a minor offence," the lawyer said.

"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."

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".

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

Called as a defence witness, a retired former Swedish appeals court judge said the case had been "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. It looks malicious," she told the court.

Assange, who was arrested in London on December 7, faces a widening criminal probe in the United States having enraged Washington by releasing the cables detailing US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the work of US diplomats.

He was released on bail a week after his arrest and has been staying at a supporter's country mansion under strict conditions.

© 2011 AFP

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