A$AP Rocky: US envoy for hostage affairs sent to Sweden for rapper's trial

By Guardian staff and agencies

Donald Trump sent the US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to Stockholm to monitor the court proceedings of the American rapper A$AP Rocky, according to Swedish news agency TT.

The special envoy Robert O’Brien was seen on Tuesday at Stockholm district court, where the rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, faced trial.

Ruth Newman, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Stockholm, told TT that O’Brien was in Sweden “to look after the well-being of American citizens, which is always our top priority”.

Mayers is accused with two others of beating a 19-year-old man in Stockholm on 30 June and has been held in detention in Sweden since the beginning of July. His ongoing detention in Sweden prompted Donald Trump to personally intervene on his behalf. Mayers nevertheless remained behind bars, angering the US president.

Dressed in prison uniform of a green T-shirt and trousers, Mayers pleaded not guilty to assault on the first day of his trial on Tuesday.

The rapper sat near his mother, Renee Black, in the Stockholm district court.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers presented competing narratives of what happened the night of the fight.

Who is A$AP Rocky and why does he have Trump's attention? - video

Prosecutors said 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari and a friend got into an argument with Mayers and one of his bodyguards near a fast-food restaurant where the rapper’s entourage had eaten and played video footage that showed Mayers throwing a young man to the ground.

Mayers has published videos on his Instagram account that showed him repeatedly pleading with Jafari and his friend to stop following him and his associates.

The defense lawyer Slobodan Jovicic stressed Tuesday that the rapper and his entourage “didn’t want any trouble” and alleged that Jafari and his friend had exhibited “aggressive and deeply provocative behavior”.

A$AP Rocky previously encountered violent situations on streets because of his fame and “there are some people who don’t always wish him well”, Jovicic said.

“He’s has been harassed in the past. In this case, the bodyguard made the assessment that these people (Jafari and his friend) should move on ... and not to come close,” the lawyer said.

Another lawyer representing A$AP Rocky in Sweden, Martin Persson, told public broadcaster SVT that he would present new evidence, including facts that would show “no bottle has been used to hit or injure anyone”.

Any physical aggression by Mayers and his co-defendants was “within the limits of the law”, Persson said.

The case has drawn the attention of American celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Mayers’ fellow recording artists, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Justin Bieber. A social media campaign for his release, called #JusticeForRocky, was created soon after his arrest.

Trump also weighed in, asking for a phone call with the Swedish prime minister, Stefan Lofven and offering to personally guarantee the rapper’s bail. The two leaders spoke, but Lofven stressed he couldn’t interfere in a legal case.

Sweden doesn’t let people facing criminal charges out on bail, and A$AP Rocky stayed behind bars. Once Mayers was charged, Trump criticized the prime minister on Twitter “for being unable to act”.

“We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky,” Trump tweeted.

The trial was held in a secure courtroom “because of strong interest from the media and the public”, the Stockholm district court said. Taking photographs and video was prohibited. The court set aside two more days for the trial. Witnesses are expected to testify Thursday.