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Defense lawyer argues Assange won’t get justice in Swedish case

Says WikiLeaks founder should not be extradited

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met in Stockholm last year. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met in Stockholm last year.
By Jill Lawless
Associated Press / February 8, 2011

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LONDON — The lawyer for Julian Assange argued yesterday that the embattled WikiLeaks founder will face a secret trial that violates international standards of fairness if sent to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

Geoffrey Robertson told an extradition hearing that Assange would not get a fair trial because of his notoriety and because Swedish rape cases are customarily held without public or media present, to protect the alleged victims.

Closed-door hearings would be “a flagrant denial of justice . . . blatantly unfair, not only by British standards but by European standards and indeed by international standards,’’ Robertson said.

He said the risk was especially high, “given the amount of vilification throughout the world Mr. Assange has faced.’’

The British lawyer representing Sweden, Clare Montgomery, countered that Swedish trials were based on the principle that everyone deserves “a fair and public hearing.’’ She said that in cases where evidence is heard in private it will often be published after the trial and recited in the judgment.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year. He denies wrongdoing.

The Australian, 39, appeared composed and occasionally took notes as he sat in the dock at London’s Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court on the first day of a two-day hearing.

His lawyers’ wide-ranging arguments against extradition range from criticism of Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to claims that Assange could eventually be extradited from Sweden to the United States, and even sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Assange’s lawyers also say he cannot be extradited because he has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is wanted only for questioning. They also say the allegation is not rape as understood under European and English law, but Montgomery contested this.

WikiLeaks sparked an international uproar last year when it published a secret helicopter video showing a US attack that killed two Reuters journalists in Baghdad. It went on to release hundreds of thousands of secret US military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it later began publishing classified US diplomatic cables whose revelations angered and embarrassed the United States and its allies.

American officials are trying to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks for the publication of the documents. Assange’s lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated.

Written defense arguments released by Assange’s legal team claim “there is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.’’

Many legal analysis say the Guantanamo claims are fanciful, and Sweden strongly denies coming under American pressure.

Nils Rekke, head of the legal department at the Swedish prosecutor’s office in Stockholm, has said Assange would be protected from transfer to the United States by strict European rules, which would require approval from both Sweden and Britain.

Montgomery said it was ridiculous to suggest “that Sweden is somehow to be regarded as a state that provides no protections against this sort of threat and violation.’’

Assange was arrested in London in December after Sweden issued a warrant on rape and molestation accusations.

Released on bail on condition he live — under curfew and electronically tagged — at a supporter’s country mansion in eastern England, Assange has managed to conduct multiple media interviews, sign a reported $1.5 million deal for a memoir, and pose for a magazine Christmas photo shoot dressed as Santa Claus.

The extradition hearing is due to end today, but Judge Howard Riddle could take several weeks to consider his ruling — which can be appealed by either side.

A former spokesman for WikiLeaks, who left the group after a falling-out with Assange, is about to publish what’s billed as a tell-all book about its inner workings.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a computer scientist, was WikiLeaks’ best-known face after Assange himself. His insider account will be published later this week in 16 countries.

Publishers have promised that Domscheit-Berg’s “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website’’ will reveal never-disclosed details about the group’s operations.

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