Thu, Feb 10, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UK court told of ‘revenge’ messages against Assange

The Guardian, LONDON

Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer was shown scores of text messages sent by the two women who accuse him of rape and sexual assault, in which they speak of “revenge” and extracting money from him, an extradition hearing in London was told on Tuesday.

Bjorn Hurtig, who represents the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief in Sweden, told Belmarsh magistrates court in London that he had been shown “about 100” messages sent between the women and their friends while supervised by a Swedish police officer, but had not been permitted to make notes or share the contents with his client.

“I consider this to be contrary to the rules of a fair trial,” he said.

A number of the messages “go against what the claimants have said,” he told the court.

Sweden is seeking Assange’s extradition in relation to allegations of rape, sexual assault and sexual molestation. He denies the accusations.

One message referred to one of the women being “half asleep” while having sex with Assange, Hurtig said, as opposed to fully asleep.

“That to my mind is the same as saying ‘half awake,’” he said.

One of the women alleges that Assange had sex with her while she was sleeping.

However, the lawyer admitted that Swedish prosecutors had tried to interview his client before he left the country, contradicting earlier claims by Assange’s legal team and his own witness statement.

Hurtig told the extradition hearing that he had been wrong to assert that the prosecutor Marianne Ny had made no active attempt to interview Assange between her appointment to the case, on Sept. 1 and Sept. 27 last year, when Assange left the country with her permission.

Under cross-examination by Clare Montgomery, Queens Council for the Swedish government, Hurtig admitted the prosecutor’s office had contacted him on Sept. 22 requesting an interview. Montgomery asked him to take out his mobile and read two text messages received on that date.

One, in Swedish, he translated as: “Hello, is it clear if it’s going to be good to have interrogation on Tuesday, 1700h?”

Hurtig said he could not recall calling Assange after receiving the request, but was sure he would have done.

“You should bear in mind that it was very difficult to get hold of him during this time,” he said.

The omission was “embarrassing and shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It’s true that that gave an impression that was to Julian’s advantage.”

However, he insisted it was accidental: “I am myself a member of the Swedish bar association and it’s important that what I say is right. It’s also important for Julian that my statement is reliable and correct.”

The hearing did not conclude in the allotted two days and will resume tomorrow. Judge Howard Riddle was not expected to deliver his judgment immediately.

He agreed to amend Assange’s bail conditions until tomorrow, lifting the requirement that he visit a police station near his rural address each afternoon.

Earlier, the court heard from retired prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem, who said the conduct of the prosecutor had been “quite peculiar” in not seeking to interview Assange earlier.

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