STOCKHOLM (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should turn himself in for questioning in a Swedish rape investigation and has no reason to worry about not getting a fair trial, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask said Thursday.
Ms. Ask’s comments to the Associated Press reveal the irritation among senior Swedish officials at the arguments used by Mr. Assange’s lawyers in fighting his extradition in a British court, where closing arguments are set for Friday.
The lawyers defending Mr. Assange, who is accused of sexual misconduct against two Swedish women, say a closed-door trial in Sweden would represent “a flagrant denial of justice.”
They also say he risks being handed over to the United States, which is investigating whether Mr. Assange’s secret-spilling website should be held responsible for leaking classified information.
Mr. Assange “has a lot of prejudice,” Ms. Ask said in an interview at the Swedish Parliament. “I think it’s beyond doubt that we are very careful about the independence and quality of the justice system in this country.
“Everyone is equal before the law. He is suspected, accused of a serious crime and should, of course, present himself for interrogation,” she said.
WikiLeaks has angered the United States and other governments by publishing tens of thousands of secret military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a massive trove of U.S. diplomatic cables.
Mr. Assange‘s supporters say the rape allegations are trumped up and possibly politically motivated, charges that the women’s lawyer has denied.
Leaked police documents show one of Mr. Assange’s accusers claims he initiated sex with her while she was sleeping, which can be considered rape under Swedish law. The other claims he intentionally damaged a condom and pinned her down while having consensual sex. Mr. Assange denies wrongdoing.
He met both women in connection with a seminar on free speech in Stockholm in August.
Mr. Assange‘s objections to the extradition range from how the arrest warrant was issued to the “secret” nature of rape trials in Sweden, where such hearings often are held behind closed doors out of respect for the victims.
“You cannot have a fair trial when the press and the public are excluded from the court,” Mr. Assange’s lead lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, said Tuesday. That’s especially relevant for someone like Mr. Assange, who has faced “vilification” worldwide, Mr. Robertson said.
The defense also produced witnesses to attack the conduct of prosecutor Marianne Ny, including a retired Swedish judge who described Ms. Ny as having “a rather biased view against men.”
Those comments prompted Sweden’s top prosecutor to issue a statement defending Ms. Ny’s competence and her handling of the case.
Even Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt weighed in, saying everyone who lives in Sweden knows its justice system is “well-functioning.”