A Swedish court on Monday rejected a request to detain Australian whistleblower Julian Assange over a 2010 rape case, complicating the prosecutor’s efforts to request his transfer from Britain.
The court said it shared the prosecutor’s opinion that the Wikileaks founder was suspected of rape and “that there is a risk that Julian Assange will fail to appear or in some other way avoid participation in the investigation”.
But it ruled in favour of Assange’s lawyer and said a detention order was not “proportionate,” given that he is imprisoned in Britain and the prosecution could therefore proceed with the investigation in other ways.
Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson had told the court that Assange 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.
It would have been the first step towards issuing a European Arrest Warrant to request Britain to extradite Assange to Sweden.
“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 was not currently a flight risk.
He said it was not proportionate to ask for someone’s detention merely to conduct a questioning session.
Assange, 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.
– Next steps –
The court’s decision means the prosecutor is now unable to proceed with the European Arrest Warrant to request Assange’s transfer.
Persson said she had not yet decided on whether to appeal. She said the investigation would still proceed and she would issue a European Investigation Order to interrogate Assange.
She didnot indicate when such an interrogation could take place and said the prosecution would proceed on a “step by step” basis.
Assange’s lawyer Per E Samuelson welcomed the court’s decision. “I’m glad that the Uppsala District Court showed that in Sweden there is rule of law,” he told AFP.
“If you follow the law then it’s very clear that this is how it’s supposed to happen. But I had my doubts because there is a lot of pressure in Sweden against Julian Assange,” Samuelson said.
– Health concerns –
Assange is currently also the subject of a US extradition request, where he 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.
He could be sentenced to 175 years in prison if convicted on all 18 counts.
Last week, a scheduled hearing on the US extradition request in London was pushed forward with chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot referring to Assange was “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.
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”. AFP