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US rapper A$AP Rocky has triggered an international row after being put on trial in Sweden in a case that has pitted President Donald Trump against the Scandinavian nation.
The New York City-born musician - real name Rakim Mayers - is accused of assaulting a 19-year-old Afghan immigrant while in Stockholm on 30 June to perform at a music festival, the BBC reports. He denies the allegations.
So what happened?
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A$AP Rocky shot to fame after signing a reported $3m (£2.5m) deal with Sony-owned RCA Records in 2011. Now 30, he has since toured with big names including Kendrick Lamar and has collaborated with Rihanna, Rod Stewart, Lana del Ray, Selena Gomez and Alicia Keys, The Daily Telegraph notes.
But he has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons following his arrest on 3 July for allegedly assaulting an immigrant called Mustafa Jafari. The teenager claims he was smashed over the head with a bottle by someone in the star’s entourage, and then hit and punched repeatedly by all four men as he lay on the ground.
Jafari - who claims he had no idea who A$AP Rocky was - says the group turned on him after he approached them to ask if they had seen his friend.
He claims that the rapper’s bodyguard told him to go away and pushed him, before grabbing him by the throat, lifting him off the ground and carrying him away, breaking his headphones in the process.
When the teen went back to complain, the four men are alleged to have attacked him.
“While I’m talking to them, all of a sudden one of these guys comes from behind and hits me with a bottle,” Jafari said. “I felt they were going to beat me to death.”
A$AP Rocky and two co-defendants, Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers, all pleaded not guilty in Stockholm District Court on Tuesday. The bodyguard, named only as Tee in court papers, has not been charged.
A video released by the rapper shows Jafari ignoring repeated requests to leave the group alone as he follows them around complaining about his headphones. In the clip, the musician is seen putting his left hand on the teen as he says: “Listen, listen. We don’t wanna fight y’all. We don’t wanna go to jail.”
According to entertainment news site TMZ, the footage indicates that it was Jafari who broke the headphones, by smashing them over the bodyguard’s head. The site also says that A$AP Rocky voluntarily went to the police days later, when he was taken into custody.
In addition, TMZ suggests that the US Embassy was not immediately alerted by police about the arrest, even though this is standard practice.
What was the response?
The case has caused widespread controversy, with the hashtag #FreeRocky trending on Twitter.
Some suggest the incident was racially motivated, notes the Telegraph.
President Trump was reportedly told about the case by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, who has become an influential advocate for prison reforms.
The US leader has subsequently posted a string of tweets in which he has claimed that Sweden has “let our African-American community down”.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says that in response, he has told Trump that “in Sweden everyone is equal before the law and that the government cannot and will not attempt to influence the legal proceedings”.
Amid rising tensions, the opening of A$AP Rocky’s trial in the Swedish capital this week was attended by Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, who has been involved in diplomacy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien said. “I’ll be here until they come home.”
The rapper is expected to testify on Thursday.
Jafari’s lawyer, Magnus Stromberg, claims that his client required 13 stitches as a result of the attack, and is asking for $16,000 (£13,150) in compensation for injuries and lost income.
The key issue when it comes to sentencing is whether Jafari really was hit with a bottle, Swedish lawyer Leif Silbersky told The New York Times.
“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, he said.
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