ASAP Rocky Trial Begins in Sweden, With a Special Envoy From America

STOCKHOLM — To some cheers and an equal amount of mockery, President Trump has treated the ASAP Rocky assault case as something akin to an international hostage crisis.

So when Rocky went on trial here on Tuesday along with two members of his entourage, few were very surprised when Robert C. O’Brien took a seat in the courtroom, joining the journalists and a handful of teenage rap fans and curious onlookers already assembled there.

Mr. O’Brien is the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs.

“The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview. “I’ll be here until they come home.”

Whether Mr. O’Brien was in for an extended Swedish stay will soon be decided, as a case that has become a low point in American-Scandinavian relations has come down to the judicial matter of whether the defendants had good reason to beat up a man on a Stockholm street a month ago.

Rocky, 30, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, is accused of assaulting Mustafa Jafari, 19, on June 30 while the rapper was in the city to perform at a music festival. Rocky, along with his co-defendants, Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers, all pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Rocky will not testify until the trial resumes on Thursday, but according to a transcript of his police interview, he said that Mr. Jafari and another man had been harassing and following him and that he feared he was about to be attacked.

Mr. Jafari gave his side of the events on Tuesday. Speaking in Persian through an interpreter, he said that he had been in town and had become separated from a friend when he came across Rocky and his group outside a burger restaurant and asked them if they had seen his friend.

Rocky’s bodyguard, who is named only as Tee in court papers, told him to go away, then pushed him, Mr. Jafari said. “If someone says in a nice way, ‘Go away from here,’ then you do,” he added. “But he just pushed me. What he did was wrong.”

Mr. Jafari said Rocky’s bodyguard then grabbed him by the throat, lifted him off the ground and carried him away from the group. In so doing, Mr. Jafari said, the bodyguard broke a pair of headphones Mr. Jafari was wearing. Mr. Jafari said he threw them at the security guard, then followed Rocky’s group around, complaining about his broken headphones. He didn’t know who Rocky was, he added.

The bodyguard, who was not charged, was not in court to give his account, but Slobodan Jovicic, Rocky’s lawyer, said the bodyguard had just been “doing his job.” Mr. Jovicic said that Mr. Jafari broke the headphones himself when he tried to punch the bodyguard.

Mr. Jafari said he followed Rocky and his entourage onto a side street and tried to talk to them again about the broken headphones. “While I’m talking to them, all of a sudden one of these guys comes from behind and hits me with a bottle,” smashing it on the right side of the head behind his ear, Mr. Jafari said. He did not know which man hit him with the bottle, he said.

Mr. Jafari said that once he was down on the ground, he was kicked and punched repeatedly, at least 20 times by all four men in the group. “I felt they were going to beat me to death,” he said.

Magnus Stromberg, Mr. Jafari’s lawyer, said his client was asking for about $16,000 in compensation for injuries and lost income. Mr. Jafari suffered cuts to his face, arms and hands that required 13 stitches and would leave scars, Mr. Stromberg said. Some wounds appeared to come from a broken bottle found at the scene, he added.

Leif Silbersky, a Swedish lawyer who has handled many high-profile cases, but is not involved in Rocky’s, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the bottle was key to the case, especially if any of the defendants are convicted. “If someone has used a glass bottle, then it’s an aggravating circumstance, and it automatically carries a prison sentence” of at least a year, Mr. Silbersky said.

Mr. Jovicic denied Rocky or his friends used a bottle. The court was shown several videos of the attack, but none of them showed a bottle being used in it. Mr. Jafari could have accidentally rolled on a bottle at the scene, Mr. Jovicic said.

After testimony ends, most likely on Friday, the presiding judge, Per Lennerbrant, and three other judges, will reach a verdict, though it was not clear how quickly that would happen.

The Swedish prime minister, Stefan Lofven, has said he cannot intervene, despite Mr. Trump’s urging — in a cordial phone call and some less-cordial Twitter posts — that Mr. Lofven step in.

Mr. Trump began taking an interest in the case after the rap star Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, brought it to the White House’s attention. Mr. Trump, who has been sparring with prominent black figures in recent weeks, has posted a string of tweets in the last two weeks in which he referenced the #FreeRocky hashtag and said that Sweden had “let our African-American community down.”

According to a statement Mr. Lofven’s office released after his July 20 phone call with Mr. Trump, the prime minister told the president that “in Sweden everyone is equal before the law and that the government cannot and will not attempt to influence the legal proceedings.”

Mr. Trump was not the only observer who seemed to have made up his mind before the trial. Ivan Wailullah, 32, a middle school science teacher from Nynashamn, 40 minutes south of Stockholm, watched the day’s proceedings from a listening room next to the court. He said he was a superfan and an organizer of the “Free Rocky Movement,” which staged small demonstrations in Sweden calling for the rapper’s release.

“If he’s found guilty, I would be furious,” Mr. Wailullah said in an interview. “He’s doing it in self-defense and they provoked him.”

Queen Jonsson, 16, a student, said she had come to watch the trial with a friend because it was “a big deal.”

“This is going to be talked about for many years,” Ms. Jonsson said. “It will be talked about if he’s released, and if he’s guilty.”

Christina Anderson reported from Stockholm, and Alex Marshall from London.

Alex Marshall is a European culture reporter, based in London. @alexmarshall81

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