A Swedish court has ruled that Julian Assange will remain in detention in abstentia over allegations of sexual misconduct and molestation.
Attorneys for the WikiLeaks founder had asked the Stockholm District Court to lift a Swedish arrest warrant to bring Assange to trial for allegedly committing two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape while visiting Sweden in 2010. Assange's legal team has challenged the warrants on grounds of insufficient evidence, and Assange himself has said the charges are politically motivated.
The court ruling means that Assange will remain, for the moment at least, holed up at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has spent the last two years. Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in August 2012, but he has been forced to remain inside the embassy on fears that if he were to leave for the airport, he would be taken into British police custody and extradited to Sweden.
In its verdict, the court ruled that "neither does the prosecutor's handling of the case nor the fact that Assange has been granted a political asylum and is presently residing in an embassy lead to the conclusion that the order should be revoked."
Assange has repeatedly said he would voluntarily go to Sweden, but only with guarantees that Stockholm would not in turn extradite him to the United States, where he could face trial for publishing classified documents leaked to him by Bradley Manning.
At the hearing, Assange’s defense counsel said their client was "justified" in his concern that the warrant was politically motivated, and created largely to get Assange to stand trial in U.S. court.
As reported by the Swedish website Falkvinge, his attorneys told the court, "it becomes clear that Ecuador is protecting Assange from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Australia, from persecution in the United States," his attorney told the court. "This has absolutely nothing to do with a Swedish legal case."
The Swedish prosecution argued the warrant was needed because Assange represents a flight risk and that a trial on the Swedish sexual charges could not be held on British soil.
"This kind of allegation [does not] work well for leaving public defenders or prosecutors on foreign soil, and we can't apply force for taking DNA samples and similar if we consider it necessary," the prosecution told the court. "Besides, we can’t hold a trial in London."
Dozens of advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild and others have voiced support for Assange's work with WikiLeaks, but few have taken a specific stand on the charges of sexual misconduct.
Reached by VOA for comment, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others declined to comment on the ruling. However, in a previous letter to President Barack Obama, CPJ urged the U.S. Justice Department "to protect freedom of speech and the press, along with the country's global reputation as a beacon of those values, by standing back from any prosecution of WikiLeaks or Assange for publishing classified documents."
Late in 2010 following the publication of the Manning documents, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that there was an "active, ongoing" investigation into possibly bringing charges against Assange, but no official charges have yet been made public.
Assange's attorneys say they will appeal the decision.