It started as a quarrel on a quiet Stockholm street, but the case of ASAP Rocky, the rapper detained in Sweden on a preliminary charge of assault, has escalated into an international incident, with politicians and diplomats weighing in, and his celebrity backers pulling strings at the White House.
On Friday a court in Stockholm approved a request from prosecutors to hold Rocky in detention for at least six more days, on the grounds that the rapper was a flight risk. A spokesman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority said another hearing would be held on July 25 to determine whether he would be detained further.
Rocky, 30, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, is accused of assaulting a man in Stockholm on June 30 while he was in the city on tour. The rapper and two other men were detained on July 5 so that prosecutors could investigate. (An investigation into a fourth man, Rocky’s bodyguard, ended without the man being detained.)
Since then, Swedish officials have been defending the country’s justice system from accusations of racism and its prisons from charges of human rights abuse — unexpected indictments against a nation often seen as a paragon of social liberalism.
The cause has been taken up by musicians, including Justin Bieber and Diddy, who decried Rocky’s detention and shared the petition on Instagram. Several rappers said they would never perform in Sweden again. “No more Sweden for me, ever,” said Tyler, the Creator, in a tweet.
Several members of Congress, including Representative Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat representing Harlem, where Rocky grew up, also have called for his release. “This incident serves as yet another example of the racially motivated focus and prejudices young men of color are subjected to around the world,” said a joint statement from the five House members.
The worlds of music and politics came together to rally for Rocky’s cause when Kanye West, the rapper, asked his wife Kim Kardashian to call President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to see if something could be done, according to a person familiar with the communications who spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to discuss them.
Ms. Kardashian called Mr. Kushner, who raised the issue with the president, the person said. Mr. Trump directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to work with Swedish authorities to make sure Rocky’s conditions of detention were fair and that the State Department received regular updates.
On Friday, Mr. Trump, who has faced a bruising week over his record on race relations for telling four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries, offered a different account of how he got involved, saying he had received calls from his African-American friends urging him to help. He also credited the first lady, Melania Trump, with bringing the issue to his attention.
“We are one,” Mr. Trump said. “We hope to get him home soon.”
Rocky himself has said he had acted in self-defense. In a clip posted by the rapper on Instagram, he and his entourage repeatedly tell two men to stop following them. “We don’t want to fight you,” Rocky says in the video.
But a video clip published on July 2 by Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper, appeared to show Rocky lifting one of the men off his feet and throwing him to the ground. Another clip posted by the gossip website TMZ appeared to show the rapper and two members of his entourage punch and kick the man while he was down.
Even so, the rapper’s team started a Change.org petition demanding his release. The petition said that the rapper was being held in “horrific” and “unsanitary” conditions in “24/7 solitary confinement.” More than 600,000 people have signed it.
The accusations have kept coming, even as Swedish officials countered that their courts were fair and their jails were world-leading.
Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that she was concerned about “misunderstandings” that had arisen. “We have a fair and just legal system,” she said.
Rocky is allowed to be with other inmates for up to three hours a day, Ms. Olofsdotter said. Giving detainees their own room, rather than making them sleep with other inmates, is “a good thing,” she added. “That is not solitary confinement.”
Henrik Olsson Lilja, Rocky’s own lawyer, undermined his team’s accusation that the rapper was being kept in inhumane conditions in an interview with Dagens Nyheter last week. The lawyer, who visited Rocky in his cell, said he was being “treated fairly” and that, contrary to what the Change.org petition said, he had access to food.
Mr. Olsson Lilja said that sometimes the cells, which have no toilets, smell of urine, but this is usually because inmates have relieved themselves in the sink.
Two days later, Rocky changed his legal team.
Ms. Olofsdotter said she had written to the congressmen explaining their claims were wrong. “It’s always important when one is a public figure one has to deal in facts,” she said. “That’s how we have trust in society.”
Later on Thursday, Ms. Olofsdotter also confronted allegations of racism when she appeared on the syndicated internet TV show “TMZ Live.” “What do you say to people that are contending that it’s not safe to travel to Sweden, frankly, if you’re black?” one of the show’s hosts asked. “Well, I would say that they are more than welcome,” Ms. Olofsdotter replied.
Linnea Wegerstad, a lecturer in criminal law at Lund University in Sweden, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that ASAP Rocky’s detention was “not unusual” for a foreigner accused of a crime like assault.
Suspects can be detained before they are charged in four circumstances, she said: if there is a risk they will reoffend; if there is a risk they may try to interfere with an investigation; if the crime is severe; or if they pose a flight risk. ASAP Rocky was detained on the last point, Ms. Wegerstad said.
Sweden does not have a system of bail and alternative ways of stopping people leaving the country, like taking their passport, are rarely used, she added. “If you live in a country where bail is possible, I understand you’d be surprised,” Ms. Wegerstad said.
Anne Ramberg, the secretary-general of the Swedish Bar Association, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that Sweden had been criticized by the United Nations and the European Union for detaining suspects for long periods without charge.
But Rocky’s was a simple case, and all foreigners facing similar charges would be detained as flight risks, she said.
She said she was annoyed by American attempts to interfere in the legal process. “I must say that I find the reactions from the American side, and from the former American ambassador to Sweden, really outrageous, when they believe they can try to change the decision by contacting our minister of foreign affairs and the king,” Ms. Ramberg said.
Ms. Wegerstad said she understood that the situation looked different when viewed from the United States. “You could say it’s a problem that Swedish citizens are treated very differently from how foreigners are treated,” she said. “I guess the reason why it has involved so many feelings is because this is a very famous person.”
Joe Coscarelli and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.
Alex Marshall is a European culture reporter, based in London. @alexmarshall81
Palko Karasz is a digital reporter for The New York Times based in the London newsroom. He covers live news, including trending stories, recent terrorist attacks and elections across Europe. He also writes features, often from Central and Eastern Europe. @karaszpalko
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