BERLIN — Amid intense international attention largely driven by President Trump’s interest in his case, A$AP Rocky’s assault trial began Tuesday in Sweden with the rapper’s lawyer saying his client had acted in self-defense.
The rapper — whose real name is Rakim Mayers — is accused of participating in an assault June 30 with two others in his group on a 19-year-old man in Stockholm. Several celebrities, some Democratic Party lawmakers and Trump have urged Sweden’s government to intervene and release Rocky.
The 30-year-old rapper entered a not guilty plea through his lawyer. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison.
Rocky and two other accused men from his crew sat quietly in the courtroom as prosecutors presented their case, which included CCTV footage and text messages that they said show the group had initiated the confrontation. Prosecutors said the group then tried to depict the rapper as the victim, according to Swedish media.
In a sign of the seriousness President Trump places on the case, the White House dispatched the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert C. O’Brien, to Stockholm “on a mission for POTUS,” said a senior State Department official. “The goal is to bring Rocky, Bladimir and David home to their friends and families in America. The time for their release is now,” said the official, referring to the rapper’s co-defendants, Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers.
One of the central questions in the trial will be whether the artist and his entourage used a bottle to attack the 19-year-old.
Crime scene photos presented in court showed a broken glass bottle on the street where the fight took place and a glass fragment matching the bottle stuck onto Rocky’s sweater, according to CNN. But Daniel Suneson, the prosecutor, conceded that no fingerprints or DNA had been found on the bottle.
Rocky’s mother, Renee Black, and dozens of journalists attended the first court session Tuesday. The man who claimed he was assaulted is seeking more than $14,000 in damages.
Defense lawyer Slobodan Jovicic maintained that Rocky did not commit a crime.
“He admits that he threw the plaintiff on the ground, that he stepped on his arm and punched or pushed his shoulder,” Jovicic said in court, adding that it was a case of “self-defense,” according to Agence France-Presse.
The rapper had previously denied being responsible for the assault, writing on Instagram earlier this month: “WE DIDNT WANT TROUBLE.”
Suneson said a video of the fracas published on Rocky’s Instagram account was edited to remove footage of the rapper’s bodyguard shoving and grabbing the plaintiff before the actual assault, the AFP reported.
Prosecutor supported their claim by showing text messages between members of Rocky’s group that said the video posted to Instagram needed to be “cleaned up a bit.”
Celebrities including Kanye West and Justin Bieber have joined the Trump administration and publicly supported Rocky and demanded his release. A group of Democratic lawmakers also expressed concerns over the group’s weeks-long detention, initially without charges. Fans of the rapper called for a boycott of Swedish companies Ikea and Spotify.
But it was Trump’s attempt to get Rocky freed that fixed an international glare on the case and provoked a low-level diplomatic standoff with Sweden, an American ally.
Trump first waded into the debate two weeks ago, when he urged Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to release the rapper. The tweets have alternated between flattering Sweden’s prime minister and criticizing him for not taking action on behalf of the rapper.
Last Thursday, Trump struck a nerve among Swedes when he implied the rapper’s race was a factor in Swedish authorities bringing charges against Rocky.
“Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States,” Trump wrote.
In Sweden, Trump’s remarks were seen as a baffling and inappropriate attempt to undermine the rule of law in their country — and a cynical ploy by Trump to deflect from his own issues with race at home.
A spokesman for the Swedish prime minister rejected Trump’s criticism last week and cited the country’s rule of law.
“In Sweden everyone is equal before the law. The Government is not allowed, and will not attempt, to influence the legal proceedings, which are now ongoing,” Mikael Lindstrom, acting press secretary, said in a statement.
The trial is scheduled to last three days, with the last hearing expected to take place Friday.
John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.