Swedish court rejects Assange detention request over rape allegation

Swedish authorities have reopened a 2010 rape investigation into the Wikileaks founder

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 01, 2019 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven out of Southwark Crown Court in London, after having been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. Julian Assange has been subjected to drawn-out "psychological torture", a UN rights expert said May 31, 2019, accusing the United States, Britain, Ecuador and Sweden of "collective persecution" of the WikiLeaks founder. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, also warned that if London agrees to an extradition request from Washington, Assange risked the death penalty.
 / AFP / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

A court in Sweden on Monday rejected a request from prosecutors that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be detained in absentia, complicating the process of having the Australian citizen extradited to Sweden for questioning over an allegation of rape.

The ruling was read out by the judge in the case at the local court in Uppsala, north of the capital Stockholm.

On May 13, Sweden reopened an investigation into the 2010 rape allegation against Assange, which he denies.

Detaining someone in their absence is a standard part of Swedish legal procedure if a suspect is outside the country or cannot be located.

The Australian whistleblower, who holed himself up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for seven years to avoid a British extradition order to Sweden, was arrested by British police on April 11 after Ecuador 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 a 2010 rape investigation, which had been closed in 2017 with the argument that as Assange could not be reached it was not possible to proceed with the probe.

In 2010, when Sweden's then director of public prosecutions Marianne Ny requested Assange's detention from Stockholm's district court, a detention order was issued.

Although at that time the investigation also included three cases of sexual harassment and unlawful coercion, all have since reached their statute of limitations.

Had the Uppsala court granted the prosecutor's request, Eva-Marie Persson made clear she intended 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 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.

"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," Ms Persson said when the request to issue a detention order was made.

The decision of whether to extradite him to the United States or Sweden would rest with the UK interior ministry.

On Thursday, 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.

"During the seven weeks in Belmarsh his health has continued to deteriorate and he has dramatically lost weight," WikiLeaks said in a statement.

Earlier in the week Assange's Swedish lawyer, Per E Samuelson, also unsuccessfully requested the Uppsala District Court to postpone the Swedish hearing, citing difficulties he had preparing the case with his client.

Mr Samuelson told AFP that 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 drawn out different legal processes against Assange amounted to "psychological torture".

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