Prosecutors gave initial arguments this morning in favor of extraditing Julian Assange to Sweden as the much-anticipated hearing got started. In a courtroom in southeast London packed with wealthy celebrity supporters like Bianca Jagger (who wasn’t allowed to “jump the queue”), Jemima Kahn, and Vaughan Smith, as well as Scottish writer Andrew O’Hagan, who is rumored to be ghostwriting Assange’s book, the WikiLeaks founder was “smiling, joking with male and female guards next to him in dock,” before the trial. Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of rape, molestation, and unlawful coercion, all of which he denies. Assange’s lawyers have a seven-point defense argument to keep him from being extradited to Sweden, where they fear he will eventually be turned over to the U.S. for leaking diplomatic cables. English prosecutor Clare Montgomery, who observers called formidable, started out by trying to debunk the “sex by surprise” myth. According to the Guardian’s live blog:
Montgomery says that the definition of rape in Swedish law is comparable to the definition in UK law so the case is “extraditable”. Of the woman who has made the allegation, she says: “Mr Assange had sexual intercourse with her and exploited the fact that she was asleep.” She says this is also an offence in English law.
Also illegal under English law: the three counts of sexual assault, from the woman who didn’t accuse him of rape, that were “without consent.”
Montgomery then tried to disprove the defense’s claim that Assange, who has yet to be charged, can be extradited for anything less than prosecution, explaining that questioning first, prosecuting second is how it works in Sweden. “There is no reason for any doubt for the purpose of the warrant, namely that it is for the purpose of prosecution.” To address Assange’s claim that he hasn’t seen the evidence against him, Montgomery plans on cross-examining his Swedish lawyer. She then argued that possibility of being extradited to the U.S. was just a hypothesis and that the U.K. would have to give its consent in order for that to occur.
Geoffrey Robertson, Assange’s defense lawyer during the hearing, argued that those three allegations of sexual assault all happened within the context of consensual sex. Robertson went on to say that Sweden’s definition of “minor rape” did not involve coercion, force, or a lack of consent and was a “contradiction in terms.” Hopefully this means another brilliant Daily Show sketch on the many variations of rape.
Robertson then tried to undermine both the Swedish lawyer who represented the woman accusing Assange and the Swedish authorities and prosecutors. Robertson said the Swedish lawyer, Claes Borgström, vilified Assange in the media. Although it doesn’t seem like they needed Borgström’s help (for the latest example, see: Keller, Bill). Assange’s defense team also brought in retired Swedish appeal judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman as a witness to testify that the case was “extremely peculiar” from the start and that the chief prosecutor had a “rather biased view against men.” Despite the fact that earlier accounts said attempts to reach Assange had failed, Sundberg-Weitman added that “after he left Sweden it would also have been very easy to have him questioned by telephone, video link or at an embassy.”
The hearing, which was supposed to last two days, seems unlikely to get a ruling tomorrow, so stay tuned for updates.
Julian Assange extradition hearing - live updates [Guardian UK]