LONDON — Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange complained Friday that comments from the Swedish prime minister have poisoned efforts to give Assange a fair hearing on sex offense allegations in Sweden.
Assange lawyer Geoffrey Robertson cited what he called “falsehoods” made about Assange by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, characterizing the prime minister’s choice of speaking on this issue at all as being inflammatory.
“In a small country … it has created a toxic atmosphere, media are reporting it and it is a basis for comment,” Robertson said. “Mr. Assange is public enemy No. 1 as a result of the prime minister’s statement.”
Assange, famous for publishing a massive cache of confidential U.S. military and diplomatic documents, is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sex crime allegations stemming from a visit there last summer. The 39-year-old Australian is fighting the extradition and denies the allegations. His lawyers claim the sex was consensual.
Assange’s lawyers have sharply criticized Sweden’s justice system, particularly the Scandinavian nation’s practice of holding some rape trials in private to protect the identity of alleged victims. The criticism became so pointed that Reinfeldt reacted to allegations of unfairness, telling Swedish radio on Tuesday that “everyone who lives in Sweden knows that it doesn’t correspond with the truth.”
The lawyer representing Sweden, Clare Montgomery, denied the prime minister made any inflammatory remarks about Assange, and sought to steer the case away from the Swedish judicial system and back to the allegations. She argued that the sexual offenses that Assange is suspected of merit extradition to Sweden.
“It’s plain Mr. Assange is alleged to have used violence,” she said, describing two separate cases of suspected sexual offenses.
Assange is accused of sexual misconduct against two Swedish women. Leaked police documents show one of Assange’s accusers claims he initiated sex with her while she was sleeping, which can be considered rape under Swedish law. The other claims he intentionally damaged a condom and pinned her down while having consensual sex.
The judge adjourned the case until Feb. 24. Even when he rules, both sides can appeal.
On Friday, both sides reiterated arguments made earlier in the week at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court, with Assange’s side arguing that Swedish prosecutors acted improperly and the Swedish government saying it is seeking Assange only after repeatedly failing to pin him down for questioning.
Assange and his supporters say the case against him is riddled with irregularities, with some alleging that it was part of U.S.-led plot to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder or blacken his reputation in retaliation for his spectacular leaks.
Lawyers for Assange’s alleged victims and Swedish authorities have all denied the claims. In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask defended her country’s court system, saying that Assange was accused of a serious crime and should turn himself in for questioning.
As for the conspiracy claims, Ask said they’d been “taken out of thin air.”
“We don’t have that influence and should not have that influence on the judiciary,” she said.
Meanwhile, Assange is out on bail — albeit under strict conditions — at a supporter’s country mansion in eastern England.