STOCKHOLM: A Swedish court heard arguments Monday before deciding if prosecutors can proceed to request Julian Assange’s extradition from Britain, after a 2010 rape probe was re-opened in May.
Both sides presented their arguments to the Uppsala district court which adjourned to deliberate. It was expected to announce a decision at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT).
Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson said the WikiLeaks founder had not cooperated with the Swedish investigation previously, fleeing from an extradition order, and therefore needed to be detained and questioned in Sweden.
She asked the court to order Assange’s detention in his absence, a standard part of Swedish legal procedure if a suspect is outside the country or cannot be located, and which would be the first step to having him extradited.
“The purpose of this detention is to be able to complete the investigation and bring Julian Assange to justice,” Persson said.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per E Samuelson, meanwhile argued that a detention order was “meaningless” as Assange is currently imprisoned in Britain and should not be considered a flight risk.
He said it was not proportionate to ask for someone’s detention merely to conduct a questioning session.
The Australian whistleblower, who holed himself up in Ecuador’s embassy in London for seven years to avoid a British extradition order to Sweden, was arrested by British police on April 11 after Quito gave him up.
He was subsequently sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions when he took refuge in the embassy.
Following his arrest Swedish authorities reopened their 2010 rape investigation, which had been closed in 2017 with the argument that it was not possible to proceed with the probe as Assange could not be reached.
LEGAL TUG OF WAR
If the Uppsala court grants the prosecutor’s request, Eva-Marie Persson has made clear she intends to issue a European Arrest Warrant “concerning surrender to Sweden”.
Such a request would, however, have to compete with an extradition request from the United States, where Assange is facing a total of 18 charges, most of which relate to obtaining and disseminating classified information over the publishing of military documents and diplomatic cables through the website WikiLeaks.
Assange could be sentenced to 175 years in prison if convicted on all 18 counts.
“In the event of a conflict between a European Arrest Warrant and a request for extradition from the US, UK authorities will decide on the order of priority. The outcome of this process is impossible to predict,” Persson said in May.
The decision of whether to extradite him to the United States or Sweden would rest with the British interior ministry.
– Health concerns –
On Thursday, a scheduled hearing on the US extradition request in London was pushed forward with chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot referring to Assange as “not very well,” and stating that the next hearing could be held at Belmarsh prison, where Assange is serving his sentence.
The day before, WikiLeaks expressed “grave concerns” over the condition of the organisation’s founder and said he had been moved to the prison’s health ward.
“During the seven weeks in Belmarsh his health has continued to deteriorate and he has dramatically lost weight,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.
Assange’s lawyer, Per E Samuelson, had also unsuccessfully requested the Uppsala district court to postpone the Swedish hearing, citing difficulties he had preparing the case with his client.
Samuelson told AFP he had met with Assange in Belmarsh’s health ward on May 24, but had been unable to discuss the case properly since “it was difficult to have a normal conversation with him”.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, on Friday said the various drawn-out legal procedures against Assange amounted to “psychological torture”.