Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET
A Swedish court has denied a request from prosectors to have WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange detained in absentia over allegations of rape. Prosecutors had sought the detention order as Assange sits in a British prison, and they say even though that effort was thwarted Monday, the case will continue.
Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecution, Eva-Marie Persson, said the district court had agreed with her on key points: that there is “still probable cause for the suspicions regarding rape” and that there are grounds for pretrial detention, due to the risk that Assange might try to flee rather than face a trial.
Persson said she and her team are still deciding whether to file formal charges against Assange. For now, he is the subject of a preliminary investigation that will continue despite Monday’s ruling. He’s also the target of more than a dozen criminal charges in the U.S. related to the exposure of classified information.
“I have the upmost respect” for the court’s decision, Persson said at a news conference after the session in Uppsala District Court.
She said the court had ruled it is “not proportionate” to grant the detention request because the investigation can continue without that step — “by the use of, for example, a European investigation order.”
Despite the apparent setback, Persson cast the ruling in a positive light, saying it provided a chance to sharpen her inquiry and that “it’s not a defeat at all.” She also noted that while the ruling applies to the current situation, the circumstances might change as the inquiry continues.
Persson said her next move will be to request a European investigation order — a step she expects to take sometime this month.
Her office reopened its investigation of Assange three weeks ago, after he was arrested by British police and dragged out of Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where he had holed up for years to skirt legal troubles. Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence as punishment for jumping bail.
On the day of his arrest, U.S. authorities announced one federal charge against him, of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking. But the Justice Department later added 17 more criminal charges, including violations of the Espionage Act.
The new indictment accuses Assange of working to obtain and disclose secret U.S. government information. The charges include an allegation that Assange agreed to help Chelsea Manning crack a password to gain access to state secrets in a federal database.
The U.S. is asking Britain to extradite Assange, but he missed a court hearing about that request last Thursday. WikiLeaks and Assange’s attorney said he was too ill to participate, even through a video link. That hearing was rescheduled for June 12.
It remains to be seen how Britain’s legal system might respond to multiple extradition requests for Assange. As a criminal law expert told NPR last month, that could actually help the controversial WikiLeaks founder fight extradition to the U.S. — where his lawyers say Assange could never receive a fair trial.
“If Sweden were to make a competing extradition request, then the home secretary [in the U.K.] might choose to give that priority and that could mean that there is at best a delay to the U.S. extradition request,” said European Union criminal law expert Anna Bradshaw of Peters & Peters.