A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused Sweden's prime minister Friday of damaging his client's chances of a fair trial for alleged sex crimes by portraying him as public enemy number one.
Assange's lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, opposing a Swedish bid to extradite the Australian, said Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had created a toxic atmosphere with what he said was an inflammatory statement about Assange and his lawyers.
Assange, a 39-year-old computer expert who has infuriated the U.S. government by releasing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his website, is wanted in Sweden to face allegations by two WikiLeaks volunteers of sexual misconduct during a visit there last August.
Robertson asked for an adjournment so he could present more evidence of the damage he said comments by Reinfeldt and other Swedish politicians had done to Assange's ability to get a fair trial in Sweden, but Judge Howard Riddle rejected his request.
The judge also indicated that he would not issue a decision on extradition immediately at the end of Friday's hearing.
Tuesday, Reinfeldt hit out at criticism, made during the Assange hearing, of his country's legal system.
We have an independent legal system that is not governed by political decisions, Reinfeldt told Swedish news channel TV4.
What worries me is that they are trying to shy away from the fact that there exists allegations that are very serious..., the prime minister added.
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Summing up at the end of the three-day extradition hearing, Robertson said Swedes now viewed Assange as public enemy number one as a result of the prime minister's statement.
He (Assange) has in effect been denounced as an 'enemy of the people', he said.
He accused Reinfeldt of issuing distortions and falsehoods about Assange's case and of showing contempt for the presumption that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
In a small country -- Sweden has only nine million people -- it has created, we understand, a toxic atmosphere, he said.
Prosecutor Clare Montgomery said Reinfeldt's comments appeared to be a reaction to media briefing by the defense team. Those who hope to fan the flames of the media firestorm can't be too surprised when they get burned, she told the court.
Assange's lawyers also argue that transfer to Sweden could be a stepping stone to extradition to the United States, where they say he could end up facing execution for leaking secrets.
The defense says Assange's rights would be violated because Swedish sexual assault trials are usually held in private. It says Sweden's issue of a fast-track European arrest warrant for Assange is disproportionate because prosecutors could have had Assange questioned in Britain.
The prosecution says Assange did not cooperate with attempts by Swedish prosecutors to interview him.
Assange has been free under strict conditions since a British court released him on bail in December. The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against him over the diplomatic cables.
(editing by Paul Taylor)