Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives with his lawyer for the final day of his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London
PAUL HACKETT  /  Reuters
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives with his lawyer Jennifer Robinson for the final day of his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London on Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/11/2011 5:55:27 AM ET 2011-02-11T10:55:27

Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange complained Friday that comments from the Swedish prime minister have poisoned efforts to give Assange a fair hearing on sex offense allegations in Sweden.

Assange lawyer Geoffrey Robertson cited what he called "inflammatory" remarks by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, saying they have transformed Assange into an enemy of the Swedish people.

"In a small country — Sweden has only nine million people — it has created, we understand, a toxic atmosphere," he said. "Mr. Assange is public enemy No. 1 as a result of the prime minister's statement."

Timeline: WikiLeaks (on this page)

Assange, famous for publishing a massive cache of confidential U.S. military and diplomatic documents, is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sex crimes allegations stemming from a visit there last summer. The 39-year-old Australian is fighting the extradition and denies the allegations. His lawyers claim the sex was consensual.

A three-day hearing at the top-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, southeast London, was adjourned until February 24, when Judge Howard Riddle is expected to rule whether Assange may be extradited. Even when he issues the ruling, both sides can appeal.

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Riddle rejected Robertson's request to be given more time to present evidence of thedamage he said comments by Reinfeldt and other Swedish politicians had done to Assange's ability to get a fair trial.

Assange's lawyers have sharply criticized Sweden's justice system, particularly the Scandinavian nation's practice of holding some rape trials in private to protect the identity of alleged victims. The criticism became so pointed that Reinfeldt reacted to allegations of unfairness, telling Swedish radio on Tuesday that "everyone who lives in Sweden knows that it doesn't correspond with the truth."

Prosecution, defense spar
Prosecutor Clare Montgomery, who is representing Sweden, 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.

She sought to steer the case away from the Swedish judicial system and back to the allegations, argued that the sexual offenses that Assange is suspected of merit extradition to Sweden.

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"It's plain Mr. Assange is alleged to have used violence," she said, describing two separate cases of suspected sexual offenses.

On Friday, both sides reiterated arguments made earlier in the week at court, with Assange's side arguing that Swedish prosecutors acted improperly and the Swedish government saying it is seeking Assange only after repeatedly failing to pin him down for questioning.

Assange and his supporters say the case against him is riddled with irregularities, with some alleging that it was part of U.S.-led plot to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder or blacken his reputation in retaliation for his spectacular leaks.

Video: Assange: Everyone wants a piece of me (on this page)

His defense team argues 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.

Lawyers for Assange's alleged victims and Swedish authorities have all denied the claims. In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask defended her country's court system, saying that Assange was accused of a serious crime and should turn himself in for questioning.

Video: Author: Assange case a worldwide melodrama (on this page)

As for the conspiracy claims, Ask said they'd been "taken out of thin air."

"We don't have that influence and should not have that influence on the judiciary," she said.

Assange has been free, but under strict conditions. A British court released him on bail in December; he's been staying at a supporter's country mansion in eastern England. The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against him over the diplomatic cables.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Author: Assange case a worldwide melodrama

Timeline: WikiLeaks

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