A Swedish court on Monday denied a request to detain WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in absentia on suspicion of rape, although the suspicions against him remain.
‘A detention order would not be in accordance with the principle of proportionality,’ the Uppsala district court said.
The court added that Assange was serving a prison sentence in Britain for skipping bail and that the Swedish investigation could proceed under the terms of a European investigation order (EIO).
Deputy chief prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson made the request, citing the risk of flight.
Prior to Monday's hearing, Persson said that, if the court had approved the detention request, she would issue a European arrest warrant concerning his surrender to Sweden.
An EIO would allow a possible interview either in London or via video link, Persson said.
A possible trial would require Assange to be in Sweden ‘and he can only come here under the terms of a European arrest warrant,’ she said.
Assange's Swedish lawyer Per E Samuelson said the court's decision to reject the detention request was ‘a big victory.’ Samuelson noted that the court had taken into account the defence's argument that the investigation could proceed under the terms of an EIO.
Persson told reporters the decision was ‘not a defeat’ and she ‘respected’ it.
She noted that the court ‘shared her assessment’ of the flight risk and that the suspicion of rape remained.
Persson said she and her team would consider a possible appeal, and continue the investigation.
The team would also look at whether to file an EIO.
Persson recently reopened the Swedish probe. It was requested by the lawyer of a woman who alleges she was raped by Assange during a 2010 visit to Sweden. Assange has denied the allegation.
The court on Monday also heard behind closed doors details of the alleged rape.
In April, police dragged Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been holed up since 2012.
The United States is also seeking his extradition.
Washington has accused Assange of conspiring with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak a trove of classified material in 2010.
US prosecutors recently brought a new 17-count indictment against Assange for the publication of classified information.
Last Thursday, undisclosed health reasons prevented the 47-year-old Australian from taking part in an extradition hearing via video link from London's Belmarsh Prison over a US request.
Samuelson earlier told the Swedish court that there were grounds to suspect that the Swedish prosecutor's move was ‘to compete with the US over an extradition.’ The lawyer added that Assange ‘has compelling reasons to remain in Britain’ after the US widened its probe to 18 counts, and that Assange needed to be in regular contact with his British attorneys to fight that.
Persson rejected that claim and said Assange was suspected of a crime in Sweden, and as such should be investigated there.
The prosecutor and lawyer disagreed over whether Assange has been willing to cooperate in the investigation of the alleged rape.
Persson recently announced that Sweden was to reopen a preliminary rape investigation into Assange that was dropped in 2017.
Three other cases of alleged sexual assault against Assange were dropped in 2014 due to the Swedish statute of limitations, but the rape probe does not run out until August 2020.
Last week Nils Melzer, the UN rapporteur on torture, said Assange shows ‘obvious’ signs of the psychological torture inflicted on him due to years of confinement and persecution. His assessment came after a visit he made to Assange in early May.
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