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Sweden: Supreme Court Affirms Pre-Trial Detention of Julian Assange

(June 15, 2015) On May 11, 2015, the Swedish Supreme Court affirmed the Appeals Court decision to continue to detain Julian Assange in absentia. (Press Release, The Supreme Court Affirms the Decision of the Court of Appeals for Pre-Trial Detention of Julian Assange (May 12, 2015), Högsta Domstolen[Supreme Court] website; Case No. Ö 5880.14 of May 11, 2015, Högsta Domstolen website (in Swedish).)

Background

Assange has been detained in absentia since October 18, 2010, on probable cause of suspicion of having sexually molested one woman in Stockholm on August 13-14, 2010, and another on August 18, 2010, and of raping one of the women in Enköping on August 17, 2010. Since June 19, 2012, he has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. (Case No. Ö 5880.14 of May 11, 2015, Decision ¶¶ 1 & 2.)

Assange’s lawyers have made several attempts to vacate the prosecutor’s decision to detain him in absentia, most recently by appealing the decision by the Appeals Court to uphold the original detention order and simultaneously asking the Supreme Court to send the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling. The Supreme Court previously denied the petition to have the decision sent to the EU Court of Justice and only granted a leave to appeal the detention decision. (Id. Preamble.)

Because Assange has been in London, a European arrest warrant was issued by the Swedish prosecutor and reviewed by the British courts; the British Supreme Court rendered a final decision on June 14, 2012, upholding the arrest warrant. (Julian Assange Loses Extradition Appeal at Supreme Court, BBC NEWS (May 30, 2012); Timeline: Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange in Sweden, BBC NEWS (Mar. 13, 2015).)

The Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court found that there is probable cause to suspect Assange of crimes for which he can be detained and there is a risk that he will escape or evade legal proceedings. The Court further found, as required by law, that the detention is proportional when weighing Assange’s interests against the goals of the detention. The Court considered the fact that Assange’s guilt has not been established.

The Court also addressed Assange’s objection that he would risk being extradited to the United States if he were sent to Sweden. No request for extradition has been made to Sweden, and even if one were made, the Court pointed out, the terms of a European arrest warrant require that Britain, the country that would send him to Sweden, approve the extradition to a third country. Assange’s fear of being sent by Sweden to the United States is therefore unfounded and need not be considered by the Court in determining whether the detention is proportional. (Case No. Ö 5880.14, ¶ 15.)

The Court specifically noted that the prosecutor has attempted to interrogate Assange in London. Because the Prosecutor’s Office has now, following the Appeals Court decision, started to look at alternative means of interrogating Assange than by having him sent to Sweden, there is a reason to keep the detention order in place to better facilitate these efforts, considering that there is a continued risk that Assange will try to avoid being questioned. (Id. ¶ 19; see also Johanna Eklundh & Nina Svanberg, Åklagaren vill förhöra Julian Assange i London [Prosecutor Wants to Interrogate Julian Assange in London], SVT (Mar. 16, 2015).)

Dissent

One of the five justices deciding the case dissented, arguing that the detention should be vacated as a disproportional invasion of the rights of the suspect, in light of the fact that no progress has been made in the attempt to execute the detention order. Unlike the majority, he did not consider the latest efforts to hold interrogations of Assange in London to be decisive, arguing that they came far too late. (Case No. Ö 5880.14, Addendum.)

Assange has previously stated that he wanted to be interrogated in London and has reportedly welcomed the interrogations, but as yet no interrogation has been reported. (Eklundh & Svanberg, supra.)

Since Assange moved into the Ecuadorian embassy in London, British authorities have had a guard outside the embassy around the clock, at an estimated cost of £10 million (about US$15.3 million). (Julian Assange 24hr Guard Leaves London Police with £10m Bill, GUARDIAN (Feb. 10, 2015).) This circumstance was not considered in the formal opinion of the Swedish Supreme Court.