Swedish prosecutor looks into allegations against Wikileaks founder, which he insists are part of a “smear campaign”.
|A warrant was first issued for Assange’s arrest in August by another prosecutor, but later withdrawn [GALLO/GETTY]|
A Swedish court has approved a request for the arrest of Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, over allegations of rape and sexual molestation.
The Stockholm district court’s decision on Thursday could allow authorities to issue an international warrant for the 39-year-old’s arrest.
The development comes nearly a month after WikiLeaks released classified military documents about the war in Iraq detailing torture, civilian deaths blamed on US and Iraqi forces.
“I request the District Court of Stockholm to detain Mr Assange in his absence, suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion,” Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of prosecutions, said in a statement in English.
“The reason for my request is that we need to interrogate him. So far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogations.”
‘Out of proportion’
Assange has previously called the allegations against him baseless and said that he had earlier been warned by Australian intelligence that he could face a campaign to discredit him.
Bjoern Hurtig, his lawyer in Sweden, said the prosecutor’s petition was “exaggerated” and “out of proportion.”
“He of course denies the allegations and opposes being arrested, and we do not think it is proportional to demand his arrest just to interrogate him,” Hurtig told the AFP news agency.
In a statement on Thursday, Mark Stephens, another of Assange’s legal representatives, said: “Even the substance of the allegations, as revealed to the press through unauthorized disclosures do not constitute what any advanced legal system considers to be rape.
“As various media outlets have reported ‘the basis for the rape charge’ purely seems to constitute a post-facto dispute over consensual, but unprotected sex days after the event
Despite his right to silence, my client has repeatedly offered to be interviewed, first in Sweden, and then in the UK (including at the Swedish Embassy), either in person or by telephone, videoconferencing or email and he has also offered to make a sworn statement on affidavit.
“All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers by insisting that he return to Sweden at his own expense to be subjected to another media circus that she will orchestrate.”
A warrant was first issued for Assange’s arrest on August 20 by another prosecutor, but was later withdrawn.
Ny reopened the rape investigation against Assange on September 1, but did not request his detention and allowed him to leave Sweden. He is reported to be currently staying in Britain.
WikiLeaks has angered the Pentagon with its releases of documents related to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The latest, in October, contained nearly 400,000 classified US files on the Iraq war, which Assange has said showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilian deaths than thought.