Swedish PM 'harmed chances of Assange fair trial': lawyer

11th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will hear on February 24 if a judge agrees that he can be extradited to Sweden, a court official said Friday, after his lawyer argued he could not get a fair trial.

Rounding off a three-day extradition hearing, lawyer Geoffrey Robertson claimed Sweden's prime minister had made Assange "enemy number one" by criticising the boss of the whistleblowing website.

Fredrik Reinfeldt's remarks on Tuesday that Assange lacked respect for women's rights had shown "complete contempt for the presumption of innocence", the lawyer told Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London.

Sweden wants to extradite Assange to face questioning over allegations he raped and sexually assaulted two women, although he has not been charged.

Robertson said Reinfeldt's comments had "created a toxic atmosphere".

But Clare Montgomery, the British lawyer acting for Sweden, said: "You might think those who seek to fan the flames of a media firestorm can't be surprised when they get burnt."

Assange's lawyer asked to be allowed to bring extra evidence about how the prime minister's comments could have affected the case but his attempt to have the hearing adjourned as a result was turned down.

The 39-year-old Australian strongly denies the rape claims, insisting the extradition attempt is politically motivated and stems from WikiLeaks' release of thousands of classified US cables.

Assange watched the proceedings from the dock at the high-security court, flicking through papers and occasionally yawning.

District judge Howard Riddle asked Assange to return to court on February 24 and a court official confirmed to AFP that a decision was expected that day.

If the judge rules that he can be extradited, Assange can appeal the case all the way to England's supreme court.

The former computer hacker was arrested in London in December on a European warrant issued by Sweden and spent a week in Wandsworth Prison before being released on bail.

After Friday's hearing, Assange complained he had still not been able to hear "any evidence of the allegation" and said "we have not been able to present my side of the story".

Another of his lawyers, Mark Stephens, told reporters outside court that the intervention of the Swedish prime minister had caused "enormous concern".

"It's wholly exceptional, wholly inappropriate and in this country the matter would be dropped as a result of it," Stephens said.

Assange says his real fear is that Sweden would deliver him on to the United States, where some politicians have called for him to face the death penalty for leaking state secrets.

Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder have condemned the Swedish justice system during the extradition hearing, attacking the practice of holding rape trials behind closed doors.

It was this criticism that prompted Reinfeldt to defend his country, telling reporters in Stockholm that it was "unfortunate that women's rights and standpoint is taken so lightly" in the defence presented by Assange's lawyers.

Reinfeldt said: "Let's not forget what is at stake here: it is women's right to get a hearing on whether they have been the victims of abuse."

The prime minister's spokeswoman refused to comment on the accusations made in court Friday.

WikiLeaks was on Thursday forced on to the defensive after accusations from its former media spokesman in a new book that the organisation was "chaotic" and cannot protect its sources.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg's "Inside WikiLeaks" also claims Assange is a "megalomaniac" with poor personal hygiene. The website said it was taking legal action against its former employee.

© 2011 AFP

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