Public statements by US officials saying the United States wanted the arrest of Julian Assange are grounds for Sweden to repeal the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest warrant, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Assange, 45, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape, which he denies.
He fears Sweden would in turn hand him over to the US to face prosecution over the publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents by WikiLeaks, in one of the largest information leaks in US history.
Lawyer Per Samuelsson said the US had now openly said it wants to arrest Assange.
“Given that the US is obviously hunting him now, he has to make use of his political asylum and it is Sweden’s duty to make sure that Sweden is no longer a reason for the fact he has to stay in the embassy,” Samuelsson said.
“If they rescind the detention order, there is a possibility he can go to Ecuador and then he can use political asylum in an entire country.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo last month branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service”, and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, responding to a question about Assange, said the administration was stepping up its efforts against all leaks of sensitive information.
“Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” Sessions said.
US President Donald Trump and his administration have put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the CIA in March by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the spy agency’s top-secret hacking operations.
The documents showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence.
Supporters of WikiLeaks say it is practising the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press.
Samuelsson said Sweden’s Supreme Court had previously rejected a similar request for the detention order to be torn up on the grounds that there was little chance that Assange would be handed over to the US.
“With the Supreme Court’s own reasoning, his detention should now be rescinded because we can now prove that the US is hunting Julian Assange,” he said.
He added it was unreasonable to demand that he should give up the 100 percent security of political asylum in Ecuador in exchange for the lower protection given by Swedish rules on extradition to the US.
Samuelsson said he expected the court to consider the request in the next few weeks.
Assange was questioned in November in Ecuador’s London embassy over the alleged rape, and Sweden is now considering whether to proceed with its preliminary investigation. The offence is alleged to have occurred in 2010.
Samuelsson said Swedish prosecutors would still be able to pursue their investigation against Assange even were he to be allowed to go to Ecuador.
“If they want to charge him and go to trial, that can happen just as well with him at liberty in Ecuador since that’s the only place he can be,” Samuelson said.
“It does not mean there would be any disadvantage to Sweden.”