A Swedish court on Monday rejected a request from prosecutors for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be detained in absentia over a 2010 rape allegation.
- Sweden reopened an investigation into the rape allegation against Assange, which he denies
- The US is seeking Assange’s extradition, where he faces 18 criminal counts and decades in prison
- UN human rights investigator says Assange is suffering from “psychological torture”
Assange, an Australian national, is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for skipping bail after spending seven years holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden. He denies the rape accusation.
The ruling by the Uppsala District Court doesn’t mean the preliminary rape investigation must be abandoned, only that Assange won’t be extradited to Sweden for now.
Assange’s defence lawyer in Sweden, Per E Samuelsson, said his client would “be happy, we are happy” to learn he won’t be extradited to Sweden.
The United States has already requested Assange’s extradition on conspiracy charges.
If Britain were to grant that request before Sweden makes its own claim, Assange will be sent to the United States.
Another factor pushing the Swedish prosecutor to act quickly is that the statute of limitations on the alleged rape runs out in August 2020.
However, Mr Samuelson argued that Assange’s imprisonment in Britain meant there was no flight risk.
“He is in prison for half a year at least, and he is detained on behalf of the United States. So there is no point detaining him in Sweden, too,” Mr Samuelson said.
Swedish prosecutors dropped their rape investigation in 2017 but reopened it after Ecuador rescinded its grant of asylum to Assange in April, allowing British police to arrest him.
Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said in a statement that she will issue a European Investigation Order in order to interview Assange.
“No date has been set yet. We will constantly review the state of the investigation,” she said.
“The [rape] investigation continues with interviews in Sweden.”
The US wants Assange extradited on chargesrelating to the public release by Wikileaks of a cache of secret documents, including assessments of foreign leaders, wars and security matters.
On May 23, US authorities widened the scope of criminal charges against him to include espionage.
Britain’s interior minister will have the final say on whether to extradite Assange to Sweden, the United States or neither.