Julian Assange said he hopes the sexual misconduct charges against him will not hold up, after his extradition hearing opened in London. His defense team said extraditing him to Sweden would violate his human rights.
Assange has remained defiant in the face of his accusations
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asked a British judge on Monday to reject a Swedish extradition request, arguing he would not get a fair trial and might ultimately face the death penalty in the US, or internment at Guantanamo Bay.
Assange also said he hoped people would reappraise the nature of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, which are often described as 'rape.'
"For the past five-and-a-half months, we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life," Assange told reporters gathered outside the maximum security court. "On the outside of that box has been written the word 'rape.' That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened."
"I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty, and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it."
Assange's defense also said the sexual assault allegations against their client do not constitute rape under European law.
"What is rape in Swedish law does not amount to rape in any other country," defense lawyer Geoffrey Robinson said.
Swedish authorities have said that last year, Assange had sex with one woman without a condom while she was asleep, and had sex with another woman with a broken condom.
Integrity of closed Swedish court questioned
The WikiLeaks founder's lawyers blasted the extradition request against him in court, claiming Sweden would try Assange "behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice."
"The Swedish custom and practice of throwing the press and public out of court when rape trials begin is one that we say is blatantly unfair, not only by British standards, but also by European standards," Robinson said.
Assange's accusers have said they are not motivated by politics
Sweden is pursuing Assange's extradition through a European arrest warrant for alleged sexual assault charges, designed to facilitate extradition between EU member countries.
The hearing, taking place at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, is scheduled to last two days.
Assange's defense criticized Sweden for seeking to extradite the controversial Internet activist before formally charging him with any crime.
Prosecutor Clare Montgomery countered that in Sweden, authorities must interrogate suspects before pressing charges.
Not over yet
US authorities have said they are looking into filing charges against Assange. Washington has criticized WikiLeaks for its publication of secret US documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as thousands of embarrassing secret diplomatic cables.
Assange has lived under strict conditions, including a curfew, at a supporter's country mansion in eastern England since a British judge granted him bail in December.
If the high court rules in favor of the extradition, Assange can appeal the decision.
Author: Shant Shahrigian, Mark Hallam (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler