Sweden's legal system will not seek to detain WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over rape allegations, a court ruled Monday. Prosecutors had sought the detention order as Assange sits in a British prison. With that effort turned back, they say, the case will continue.
Sweden's Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said the district court had agreed with her on key points: that there is "still probable cause for the suspicions regarding rape" and that there are grounds for pretrial detention, due to the risk that Assange might try to flee rather than face a trial.
Persson said she and her team are still deciding whether to file formal charges against Assange. For now, he is the subject of a preliminary investigation that will continue despite today's ruling. He's also the target of more than a dozen criminal charges in the U.S., related to the exposure of classified information.
"I have the upmost respect" for the court's decision, Persson said at a news conference after the session in Uppsala District Court.
Persson said the court had ruled it is "not proportionate" to grant the detention request because the investigation can continue without that step — "by the use of, for example, a European investigation order."
Despite the apparent setback, Persson portrayed the ruling in a positive light, saying it was a chance to sharpen her inquiry. When she was asked how big a defeat it was, she replied, "It's not a defeat at all." She added that while the ruling applies to the current situation, the circumstances might change as the inquiry continues.
Persson said that her next move will be to request a European investigation order — a step she expects to take sometime this month.
Persson's office reopened its investigation into Assange three weeks ago, when he was arrested by British police after years of using Ecuador's embassy in London as a refuge against his legal troubles. He's currently serving a 50-week sentence as punishment for jumping bail.
On the day of Assange's arrest, U.S. authorities announced one federal charge against him, of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking. But the Justice Department later added 17 more criminal charges, including violations of the Espionage Act.
The new indictment accuses Assange of working to obtain and disclose secret U.S. government information. The charges include an allegation that Assange agreed to help Chelsea Manning crack a password to gain access to state secrets in a federal database.
The U.S. is asking Britain to extradite Assange, but he missed a court hearing about that request last Thursday. WikiLeaks and Assange's attorney said he was too ill to participate, even through a video link. That hearing was rescheduled for June 12.
It remains to be seen how Britain's legal system might respond to multiple extradition requests for Assange. As a criminal law expert told NPR last month, such a dilemma could actually help the controversial WikiLeaks founder fight extradition to the U.S. — where his lawyers say Assange could never receive a fair trial.
"If Sweden were to make a competing extradition request, then the home secretary [in the U.K.] might choose to give that priority and that could mean that there is at best a delay to the U.S. extradition request," said European Union criminal law expert Anna Bradshaw of Peters & Peters.
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