Swedish court reaffirms legal basis of warrant that’s kept the WikiLeaks founder holed up as an asylum-seeker in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for two years.
On Wednesday, lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange asked that the Swedish government’s call “for the detention of Julian Assange to be lifted, effective immediately.” In Stockholm District Court, they argued that the order, which was issued in 2010, restricts Assange’s civil rights and cannot be enforced while he is at the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
“It is unreasonable for this arrest warrant to continue, seeing as it has been going on so long and how much suffering it has caused Julian Assange,” said Tomas Olsson, a member of Assange’s defense team.
However, the judge presiding over the case disagreed and denied the request. In her ruling, the judge explained that “there is still probable cause concerning the suspicions directed towards [Assange] (unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and rape, less serious incident) and that there is still a risk that he will fail to appear or in some other way avoid participation in the investigation and the following proceedings.”
Two women went to the Swedish police four years after having sex with Assange, asking if police would be able to compel him to take an HIV test. According to WikiLeaks, the women’s reasons for requesting Assange get an HIV test got twisted, and police then began investigating Assange for allegedly raping the two women.
Throughout the last four years, Assange has been questioned several times by Swedish authorities about the case, but has never been charged with a crime. The arrest warrant issued for Assange is related to Swedish officials’ interest in talking to Assange further. The two women have also come forward to say that the police made up the charges against Assange and that they only wanted him to get tested.
During the court proceedings on Wednesday, Assange’s defense team argued that law enforcement officials have had the opportunity to question Assange during the past four years. They could have even done so at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Assange has sought asylum for the past two years, Assange’s lawyers argued, but the Swedish officials insisted that Assange come to Sweden.
The defense said that the sole reason Assange won’t go back to Sweden is because if he leaves the embassy in London he will be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted for disclosing confidential government information such as diplomatic cables and documents related to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange and many of his supporters believe that if he is sent to the U.S., he will likely be executed. Despite these concerns, the prosecution argued, “There are several reasons we haven’t made hearings in London.”
“This kind of allegation don’t work well for leaving public defenders or prosecutors on foreign soil, and we can’t apply force for taking DNA samples and similar if we consider it necessary,” the Swedish prosecutors argued. “Besides, we can’t hold a trial in London.”
During the court proceedings, the prosecution pressured Assange to return to Sweden for questioning, and said that Assange’s refusal to come to Sweden is evidence that he is a flight risk.
The defense responded to the allegations that Assange is intentionally evading Swedish authorities, pointing out that a separate arrest warrant is what has really kept Assange holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the past two years.
Though the judge ultimately sided with the prosecution, Per Samuelson, another one of Assange’s defense attorneys, said he plans to study the decision in detail and then “write a juicy, toxic appeal” to a higher court.
“Our legal arguments are solid and powerful,” Samuelsson said. “That they didn’t work could be because the judge didn’t give herself enough time to think.”
Even if Sweden had decided to drop its detention order against Assange on Wednesday, if the journalist leaves the Ecuadorean Embassy, he would be arrested by the British police permanently stationed outside for violating his bail conditions and seeking asylum at the embassy.
It’s believed that Assange would be handed over to U.S. officials shortly after being detained by the British police.