Swedish PM made Assange 'enemy number one': lawyer

11th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will hear on February 24 if a judge has ruled 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, Assange's lawyer Geoffrey Robertson claimed Sweden's prime minister had damaged the chances of a fair trial over rape claims.

Fredrik Reinfeldt had made Assange "enemy number one" with his comments indicating that the whistleblowing website's chief had taken women's rights "lightly", Robertson told Belmarsh Magistrates Court.

The remarks made on Tuesday had shown "complete contempt for the presumption of innocence", the lawyer added.

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

Robertson asked to be allowed to bring extra evidence about how the comments could have affected the case but his attempt to have the hearing 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.

The 39-year-old Australian strongly denies the claims, insisting the extradition 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 matter adjourned as a result of Reinfeldt's comments.

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

After the judge asked Assange to return to court on February 24, a court official confirmed to AFP that a decision was expected that day.

If the ruling goes against him, 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 told reporters the case presented an "opportunity to set a new precedent about the abuses of the European Arrest Warrant."

He said he had still not been able to hear "any evidence of the allegation" and complained that "we have not been able to present my side of the story".

Having won worldwide notoriety for his website's release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, Assange says his real fear is that Sweden would deliver him on to US authorities.

Some politicians in the United States have called for him to face the death penalty for leaking state secrets.

Assange's 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 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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