Swedish PM made Assange 'enemy number one': lawyer

11th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

A lawyer for Julian Assange argued Friday that Sweden's prime minister had ruined the WikiLeaks founder's chances of a fair trial over rape claims as he attempted to stall his extradition from Britain.

In closing arguments in Assange's extradition case, lawyer Geoffrey Robertson attacked Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's comments which indicated that the whistleblowing website's chief had taken women's rights "lightly".

Robertson told Belmarsh Magistrates Court that Assange was "enemy number one as a result of the prime minister's statement".

"In a small country it has created a toxic atmosphere," he said. "Media is reporting it and using it as a basis for comment."

The lawyer asked to be allowed to bring extra evidence about how the comments could have affected the case but his attempt to have the case adjourned as a result was turned down.

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

But the 39-year-old Australian insists the attempt is politically motivated and stems from WikiLeaks' release of thousands of classified US cables.

Clare Montgomery, the British lawyer acting for Sweden, dismissed Robertson's argument as "hyperbole" and district judge Howard Riddle, who is hearing the extradition case alone, rejected the attempt to have the case adjourned as a result of Reinfeldt's comments.

The hearing, which had initially been scheduled to last two days, was expected to end later Friday but the judge is likely to defer his decision on whether the extradition can take place until later this month.

If the decision goes against Assange, he can appeal.

Assange was in the dock, after arriving at the court in south London flanked by his lawyers and WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson.

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.

Assange's supporters say they fear that extradition to Sweden will lead to him eventually being delivered to the United States, where some politicians have called for him to face the death penalty for leaking state secrets.

His lawyers have attacked the Swedish justice system in the extradition hearing, criticising Sweden's practice of holding rape trials behind closed doors.

It was this criticism that prompted Reinfeldt Tuesday 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 also 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."

WikiLeaks was on Thursday forced to defend itself against accusations from its former media spokesman in a new book that the organisation was "chaotic" and cannot protect its sources, and that Assange was a "megalomaniac" with poor personal hygiene.

Assange's mother Christine has accused the Australian government of failing her son since his arrest.

In a letter to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, released Friday, she wrote: "Julian did not even get the laptop you had publicly promised him which he needed to prepare for his case while he was in Wandsworth Prison."

© 2011 AFP

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