WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would not get a fair trial if he was extradited to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault and there was a "real risk" that Swedish authorities could hand him over to America where he could be detained in Guantanamo Bay or even face death penalty for releasing confidential government documents, his lawyer told a court here on Monday.
The plea came on the first day of a two-day hearing on Sweden’s demand for Mr. Assange’s extradition to answer accusations of improper sexual conduct made by two women he met in Stockholm last August. He denies the allegations.
Mr. Assange, who is supported by a number of high-profile public figures including writers and artists, was arrested here in December on a European arrest warrant and spent nine days in a London jail before being released on bail under strict conditions.
His legal team, headed by Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of Britain’s most famous lawyers, argued that there was no need for him to be extradited as he was "willing and able" to cooperate with Swedish authorities. They also argued that the matters on which his extradition was sought did not constitute offences under English law and, further, the European arrest warrant was itself invalid as he had not yet been charged.
"A trial behind closed doors would be a flagrant denial of justice... blatantly unfair, not only by British standards, but by European standards and indeed by international standards," Mr. Robertson told a magistrates’ court.
He also said that the media frenzy surrounding the case risked turning it into a "trial by media".
"There's a danger this kind of media campaign, media vilification, will prejudice this secret trial," he said.
In a document released online, his lawyers claimed that Sweden’s extradition request was politically motivated and intended to punish him for his political views. The move, they said, involved a risk of a "flagrant denial" of their client’s human rights.
"The extradition of Mr. Assange to Sweden would involve the real risk of a flagrant denial of his human rights, especially because the trial would be held in secret. Sending him abroad to face a trial where justice would not be seen to be done would blatantly offend the U.K.’s due process and open justice traditions, and breach Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union….and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights," they argued.
American officials are trying to build a criminal case against the secret-spilling site, WikiLeaks, which has angered Washington by publishing a trove of leaked diplomatic cables and secret U.S. military files. Mr. Assange’s lawyers claim the Swedish prosecution is linked to the leaks and politically motivated.
The document adds that “there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty” if sent to the United States. Under European law, suspects cannot be extradited to jurisdictions where they may face execution.
Mr. Assange, wearing a blue suit, was flanked by two prison guards as the hearing opened at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court. Celebrity supporters Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger also attended.
Mr. Robertson denied Mr. Assange had committed any sexual offenses in English law.
He said all relationships, long or short, contain “moments of frustration, irritation and argument. This doesn’t mean, in this country, that the police are entitled to sniff under the bedclothes.”