A Swedish court has ruled that Julian Assange should not be detained in absentia, the first step necessary under Swedish law before a formal bid of extradition can be made to Britain, according to Swedish news site The Local.
Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson asked that Assange be detained over concerns that he would be a flight risk after his prison sentence in London was completed. The Uppsala District Court disagreed, though the investigation into a rape charge against Assange will continue.
Assange’s Swedish defense lawyer, Per Samuelson, previously argued that the government’s arrest order was “meaningless” and that the WikiLeaks founder was no flight risk since he was already sitting in a British prison cell. Samuelson has argued that Swedish prosecutors should fly to Britain to interview Assange at Belmarsh Prison or perhaps interview him via video link.
Samuelson reportedly called the court’s decision a “huge victory” but explained that he’d relay the information to Assange’s British lawyer because he’s not in direct contact with the WikiLeaks founder.
Assange has been investigated in Sweden over sexual assault charges made by two women in 2010. Those investigations were suspended in 2017 after Swedish prosecutors were unable to interview Assange, but the rape case was reopened last month.
Assange was imprisoned in the UK after his claim for asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy was revoked on April 11. Assange was dragged out of the embassy where he’d lived for almost seven years and was ultimately sentenced to just under a year in prison for jumping bail back in 2012. Assange fled over the sexual assault charges in Sweden but contends that his main concern was being extradited to the U.S. And it would appear that he was right to be afraid.
The U.S. Department of Justice first charged Assange with one count of conspiring to hack a classified U.S. government computer shortly after he was booted from the embassy. But it wasn’t long before the DOJ upped the ante. Assange has now been charged with 17 counts, including one under the Espionage Act, which potentially includes a punishment of death.
Assange’s health has suffered in recent weeks, according to reports by his lawyers. The 47-year-old was reportedly moved to the hospital ward of the prison last week, though it’s not clear if he remains there today.
“During the seven weeks in Belmarsh his health has continued to deteriorate and he has dramatically lost weight. The decision of the prison authorities to move him into the health ward speaks for itself,” WikiLeaks said in a statement posted to Twitter last week.
It’s still unclear whose extradition request, the U.S. or Sweden, would take precedence, but British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said over the weekend that he wouldn’t block extradition.
“Well, we would have to follow our own legal processes, just as the U.S. has to follow its own legal processes,” Hunt said on CBS Sunday morning show Face the Nation yesterday. “But would I want to stand in the way of Julian Assange facing justice? No, I would not.”