Swedish court approves detention of WikiLeaks founder

Thursday, November 18, 2010

STOCKHOLM - A Swedish court Thursday approved a prosecutor’s request to detain the founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, as part of a probe into alleged rape.

The decision was announced after a closed-door hearing at the Stockholm district court.

Assange is suspected of “rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion”, Marianne Ny, director of public prosecution, had said earlier.

Assange was not present at the hearing. His Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, and London-based counsel Mark Stephens Thursday reiterated that Assange “maintained his innocence”.

Hurtig told reporters the evidence presented was “very thin”, but that he would have to talk to Assange before deciding whether to appeal. He declined to discuss Assange’s whereabouts.

The court ruling will allow prosecutors to seek assistance from other countries to have him arrested.

Ny said the detention request was made in order “to interrogate him. So far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogations”.

But Stephens - in a statement posted on the blogging website Twitter before the court’s decision - said Ny had “flatly refused” offers by Assange to be interviewed in Sweden or at the Swedish embassy in Britain in person or via telephone, videolink or e-mail.

The investigation followed complaints made by two women in August, when Assange was in Sweden for the publication of thousands of leaked Pentagon war papers relating to the Afghan conflict.

Claes Borgstrom, the attorney representing the women, was not allowed to attend Thursday’s hearing, but welcomed the ruling.

Ny decided in September to resume the probe into Assange.

The Australian national had applied for residency and a work permit in Sweden, but the request was recently rejected by the Swedish Migration Board.

It was believed that residency would have allowed the WikiLeaks founder to apply for a licence to publish material in Sweden and benefit from the country’s press freedom and freedom of speech laws.

Assange earlier this month said WikiLeaks is now considering establishing a base in Switzerland.

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