Assange criticism by Sweden PM 'damages trial process'

Criticism of Julian Assange by Sweden's prime minister could damage his chance of a fair trial, a UK extradition hearing has been told.

Fredrik Reinfeldt's remarks had shown "complete contempt for the presumption of innocence", said Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing the Wikileaks founder.

The Swedish authorities' lawyer denied that Mr Assange, 39, had been vilified.

Sweden wants to extradite Mr Assange over alleged sexual assaults on two women, which he denies.

At Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in south-east London, Mr Robertson told the hearing that the prime minister's comments this week had created a "toxic atmosphere" in Sweden.

They included claims that Mr Assange and his lawyers had been "condescending and damaging to Sweden", and implied they thought women's rights were worthless, Mr Robertson said.

"Mr Assange is public enemy number one as a result of the prime minister's statement," he said.

Clare Montgomery QC, for the Swedish authorities, denied that the prime minister had vilified Mr Assange.

"You might think those who seek to fan the flames of a media firestorm can't be surprised when they get burnt," she said.

'Smear campaign'
Mr Reinfeldt was quoted on Tuesday stressing that Sweden had an independent judiciary, countering the view expressed by Mr Assange that the allegations against him are politically motivated.

"Let's not forget what is at stake here: It is women's right to get a hearing on whether they have been the victims of abuse," said Mr Reinfeldt, according to the AFP news agency.

"I find if very regrettable that [Assange's defence team] in this way is trying to... make their rights appear worth very little."

On the final day of the extradition hearing on Friday, the judge said he was minded to take two weeks to decide on the possible removal to Sweden.

Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, was released on bail by a High Court judge in December after spending nine days in Wandsworth prison.

He denies sexually assaulting two female supporters during a visit to Stockholm in August and says the allegations are part of a smear campaign against him and his whistle-blowing website.

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