Assange trial ends in fight over rape definition

Julian Assange will return to court for the final day of his extradition hearing
Julian Assange will return to court for the final day of his extradition hearing

By Hannah Brenton

Julian Assange's extradition battle came to a close today, during bizarre proceedings at Belmarsh magistrates' court.

The hearing descended into a dispute over the definition of rape, with defence and prosecution lawyers exchanging several loaded comments.

Prosecuting lawyer Clare Montgomery QC said that rape was not a subjective term, accusing the defence of trying to downplay the significance of the allegations.

"If Sweden says it's rape, it's rape," she said.

But Mr Assange's lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, said in response: "If Sweden were to say sucking toes without washing them first is rape then would that be an extradition offence? No."

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted on allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion. There will be a final decision on February 24th.

Mr Robertson began by recapping the defence's case, arguing that the 39-year-old Australian would not get a fair trial in Sweden. He said the fact that rape trials are conducted in secret in Sweden would be a "plain breach" of Mr Assange's human rights.

The defence claimed that the allegations against the information activist are not crimes under English law. In extradition cases, the offences must exist in both countries.

Mr Robertson said it was "crystal clear" that the sex had been consensual in the case of one of the complainants.

He said the argument that Mr Assange used his bodyweight to pin the complainant down "describes what is usually termed the missionary position".

Mr Robertson attacked the conduct of Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, querying why his client had not been interviewed over Skype and suggested Ny herself should be cross-questioned.

The defence also questioned the validity of the arrest warrant.

"Is this a warrant for prosecution? The answer is no. It is issued as part of the preliminary investigation," said Mr Roberston.

Summing up the case for the prosecution, Ms Montgomery said the defence had been "mischievous" in blaming Ny.

She denied any confusion over the purpose of the arrest warrant.

"It is completely clear that what is sought is for the purposes of prosecution," said Ms Montgomery.

She said the Swedish definition of rape was "pan-European".

"If you penetrate a sleeping women there's an evidential presumption that she did not consent", she added.

Ms Montgomery also dismissed claims that Assange would not receive a fair trial in Sweden because of secret trials for rape cases, saying it was a "parody" of the justice system.

Early in the hearing, Mr Robertson requested that the case be adjourned so the defence could gather more information on the "toxic atmosphere" created by Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's criticism of his client.

The prosecution responded that those who "play with a media fire storm can't be surprised when they get burnt".

The adjournment was denied by Judge Howard Riddle.


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