May 28, 2019 / 4:14 PM / in 5 months

Swedish court rejects delay of Assange hearing over ill-health - lawyer

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish court has rejected a request to postpone a planned hearing to rule on the detention in absentia of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged rape, a defence lawyer for Assange said on Tuesday

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London August 18, 2014. REUTERS/John Stillwell

The Swedish prosecutor heading an investigation into the rape allegation against Assange, which he denies, this month filed a request with a local court for him to be detained with a hearing scheduled for June 3.

Swedish defence lawyer Per Samuelson told Reuters he had visited Assange in British custody on Friday after which he had sought to have the hearing postponed.

“One of the reasons is that Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him,” Samuelson said.

“I meant that it should be postponed until I had time to meet again and go through the issues in peace and quiet. I suggested no specific date and meant it should be postponed until everything was ready, but the district court has now decided that this won’t happen.”

The Uppsala district court, where the hearing is due to take place, was not immediately available for comment. A prosecutors’ office spokesman declined to comment.

Sweden reopened the rape investigation in early May. It was begun in 2010 but dropped in 2017 years after Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy. Assange was arrested in London last month after spending seven years inside the embassy.

If the court order is granted, it would be the first step in a process to have Assange extradited from Britain, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail.

U.S. authorities are separately seeking to extradite Assange on charges relating to the public release by Wikileaks of a cache of secret documents and last week unveiled 17 new criminal charges against him, including espionage.

The British courts will have to rule on the two extradition requests, with the home secretary having the final say on which one takes precedence.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Anna Ringstrom; writing by Niklas Pollard, editing by Ed Osmond

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