ASAP Rocky pleads not guilty as assault trial begins in Sweden

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By Alexander Smith and Alex Norden and Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky attends the Alexander Wang Spring
U.S. rapper ASAP Rocky during New York Fashion Week in 2012.   -   Copyright  Andrew Burton

STOCKHOLM — The rapper ASAP Rocky pleaded not guilty to assault Tuesday as his high-profile trial kicked off in Sweden.

He was detained earlier this month following a street brawl in the capital, Stockholm, where he and two of his entourage allegedly attacked a 19-year-old man, Mustafa Jafari.

The case has attracted widespread attention, with artists such as Kim Kardashian-West, Rod Stewart and even President Donald Trump calling on Swedish authorities to release the rapper, real name Rakim Mayers, claiming he has been unfairly treated because he is black.

Swedish authorities have strenuously denied this allegation, with the country's prime minister, Stefan Löfven, saying politicians should not interfere with judicial matters.

On Tuesday, after almost a month in prison, Mayers, 30, and the two other suspects pleaded not guilty to assault. They say that they were being harassed by two men, one of whom is the victim named in the trial, and that they were acting in self-defense.

Prosecutor Daniel Suneson showed the judge video from security cameras and witnesses' phones, which he said supported the case against the defendants. The prosecution alleges that Mayers threw the plaintiff on the ground, before he and two of his entourage kicked and punched him.

The case has gathered so much media attention that Tuesday's hearing had to be held in a special secure courtroom. Among those present were some 50 journalists and a U.S. diplomat, Robert C. O'Brien, who is the State Department's special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

The three defendants entered the room wearing handcuffs and prison uniforms of green T-shirts and pants.

The alleged victim is seeking 139,000 Swedish crowns (around $14,500) in damages. If convicted the defendants could face two years in jail.

Mayers' team is expected to present its evidence on Thursday and a verdict could be reached as early as Friday.

Alexander Smith reported from London, and Alex Norden reported from Stockholm.