LONDON (Reuters) - A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused Sweden’s prime minister on Friday of damaging his client’s chances of a fair trial for alleged sex crimes by portraying him as “public enemy number one.”
Assange’s lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, opposing a Swedish bid to extradite the Australian from Britain, said Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had created a “toxic atmosphere” in Sweden with what he said was an inflammatory statement about Assange.
The three-day hearing at the top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in southeast London was adjourned until February 24, when Judge Howard Riddle is expected to rule whether Assange should be extradited.
Assange, a 39-year-old computer expert who infuriated the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, is wanted in Sweden to face allegations by two WikiLeaks volunteers of sexual misconduct during a visit there last August. Assange denies the allegations.
“I have never been able to present my side of the story,” Assange told reporters outside court. “We have been confined to procedural arguments about some abuses of process, the validity of a warrant on its face but not what propped it up.”
Riddle refused Robertson’s request for more time to present evidence of the damage he said Reinfeldt’s comments had done to Assange’s ability to get a fair trial.
On Tuesday, Reinfeldt hit out at criticism, made during the Assange hearing, of his country’s legal system, and described the allegations against Assange as “very serious.”
Robertson said Swedes viewed Assange as “public enemy number one as a result of the prime minister’s statement.”
“He (Assange) has in effect been denounced as an ‘enemy of the people’,” he said.
One of Assange’s accusers alleges he sexually molested her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom during sex.
The second woman says Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep. Prosecutors say that amounts to the least severe of three categories of rape in Sweden, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.
Prosecutor Clare Montgomery contested the defense assertion that some of the allegations against Assange would not amount to an offence under English law.
“If a woman says to you: ‘I only wish to have sex with you if you wear a condom’, a person hearing that will understand that she is not consenting to have unprotected sex,” she said.
“This is not a case of the police slipping under the bed clothes to interfere with private consensual acts. This is a case where the allegations (of one woman) would amount to rape under English law as well as Swedish,” she said.
Montgomery also contested defense assertions that no violence was alleged to be involved. One woman’s allegation that her clothes had been ripped off and necklace broken did constitute violence, she said.
Assange’s lawyers argue that transfer to Sweden could be a stepping stone to extradition to the United States, where they say he could end up facing execution for leaking secrets.
Assange has been free under strict conditions since a British court released him on bail in December.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan