Assange's lawyers are seeking to block the WikiLeaks founder's extradition to Sweden [Reuters]

Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website, has appeared in court in Britain to ask a judge to block his extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault.

Assange's lawyer on Monday argued that, should he be extradited, the 39-year-old Australian would face a secret trial that would violate international standards of fairness.

Geoffrey Robertson told the court that there was a "real risk of flagrant violation of his [Assange's] rights" if he were to be sent to Sweden because most rape trials there are held behind closed doors.

Clare Montgomery, the British lawyer representing Sweden, countered that Swedish trials were based on the principle that everyone deserves "a fair and public hearing", saying that in cases where evidence is heard in private it will often be published after the trial and recited in the judgement.

Assange is accused of sexual misconduct by two women he met during a visit to Stockholm last year.

The prosecution says that they believe Assange did use violence against the two women.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Assange confident

After the first day of the two-day hearing, Assange, who has been free on bail under strict conditions since December, said he was confident the hearing would dispel the rape allegations hanging over him.

"For the past five-and-a-half months, we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life. On the outside of that black box has been written the word 'rape'.

"That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened," he told the media, massed outside the Belmarsh magistrates' court in southeast London where the hearing was taking place.

Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the court, said the defence had attacked the allegations made against Assange, saying that "far from being rape, the sex was entirely consensual".

"Lawyers for Assange have also attempted to undermine the reputation of the Swedish prosecutor who issued the arrest warrant, saying she didn't have the power to do so," he said.

In documents released earlier by his defence team, Assange's lawyers argued that Marianne Nye, the Swedish prosecutor, is not an appropriate "judicial authority".

Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a retired Swedish appeal court judge who was called by the defence as an expert witness, accused Nye of having a "rather biased view against men".

In their court submission, Assange's lawyers also argue there is a risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US would seek Assagne's "extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay".

Public interest

The WikiLeaks founder infuriated the US government last year when his website began to release thousands of secret US diplomatic cables.

Sweden has strongly denied pressure from the US in bringing the case against Assange.

Prosecution lawyers also sought to allay fears highlighted by the defence, saying Assange would not be extradited to the US if sent to Sweden.

The case against has drawn widespread interest, drawing an entourage of lawyers, supporters, protesters and journalists to the court.

Celebrity backers led rallies in London on Monday to support claims by Assange that the claims against him are politically motivated.

Rights campaigner Jemima Khan, British politician Tony Benn, Bianca Jagger, and founder of the Frontline journalists' club Vaughan Smith are reported to be in the public gallery watching the case.

Our correspondent said: "There's a really serious line-up of heavyweight human rights people, who've been going into the court building. 

"There's a lot of people behind him ... in some ways they're actually hoping that they might get the whole thing thrown out by Tuesday."

A decision on Assange's extradition is not expected on Tuesday. The judge is expected to defer a ruling until later this month, under a term known as "reserving judgement".


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Source: Al Jazeera and agencies