7 Feb 2011

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange facing ‘secret’ trial in Sweden

Julian Assange may be tried for sex crimes behind closed doors if he is extradited as Channel 4 News learns the Swedish courts, and media, are “readying themselves” for his arrival.

The WikiLeaks editor has appeared at Belmarsh Magistrates, sitting at Woolwich Crown Court, in south London, to fight a request for a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) made by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, Julian Assange‘s lawyer, earlier argued that because Swedish rape trials take place in secret there is risk of a “flagrant violation” of Mr Assange’s rights. A person accused of rape in Sweden is also unlikely to be granted bail and could be denied communication while awaiting trial.

The court heard earlier that Assange, 39, had offered to be further interviewed by Swedish authorities via videolink or Skype, but that this was turned down.

The allegations – which Mr Assange denies – centre around two relationships with women last summer, close to the time that his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks gained world notoriety with its huge Afghan war files leaks – followed by the Iraq war logs.

Mr Robertson listed the four areas the Assange team is challenging: the risk of an unfair trial, different criminality in Sweden and the UK, the definition of rape and whether extradition would be proportional to the alleged crime.

In January Mr Assange’s legal team published a skeleton defence saying that there is a real possibility that if he were sent to Sweden the US would then seek his extradition which could result in him being detained at Guantánamo Bay.

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange facing 'secret' trial in Sweden

Retired judge questions prosecutor motives

A retired Swedish judge has given evidence to the hearing, telling the court that she believed prosecutor Marianne Ny wanted to get hold of Assange “maybe to let him suffer… so he gets softer”.

Brita Sundberg-Weitman also said she believed Ms Ny to be a radical feminist and that her attitude towards Mr Assange seemed to be “malicious”. She added that in Sweden there is a “hostile mood” surrounding the WikiLeaks editor.

During a tense afternoon session, the UK prosecutor cross-examined Ms Sundberg-Wietman demanding “facts” to back up her statement. The retired judge conceded some of her opinions of Ms Ny had been formed from media coverage rather than first-hand experience.

World’s media at Belmarsh

Reporters from all over the world jostled for the best view and access to a power-point at Belmarsh magistrates, where overspill media crammed into a portable cabin to watch proceedings via video-link.

A journalist from Dagbladet – which covers Swedish and Norwegian news – told Channel 4 News that his colleagues believe the Swedish courts are “readying” themselves for the arrival of Mr Assange.

Speaking outside court after the first day of the hearing, Mr Assange said: “For the past five-and-a-half months we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life.

“On the outside of that black box has been written the word ‘rape’. That box is now, thanks to an open court process, been opened.

“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.

“We have seen that today and I would like to thank my supporters and my lawyers for continuing to help me.

“A process like this surely lets you understand who your friends are.”

The hearing is expected to last for two days.