BERLIN - Rapper A$AP Rocky testified in a Swedish court on Thursday that he had pleaded with a 19-year-old man he is accused of assaulting to back-off during a confrontation that escalated into a brawl in June.
Rocky's testimony was his first public comment on the incident since being arrested in Stockholm in July in a case that has garnered international attention and provoked a diplomatic spat between the United States and Sweden.
The 30-year old rapper - whose real name is Rakim Mayers - was arrested by Swedish authorities earlier in July on charges of violent assault. Two of his associates, Bladimir Emilio Corniel and David Tyrone Rispers, were also arrested and charged.
The case took on new significance when President Donald Trump, responding to pleas from several celebrity friends of Rocky, urged Sweden's prime minister to intervene on the rapper's behalf - drawing rebukes from the country's leadership who suggested Trump was interfering with Sweden's judicial independence.
Through his lawyer, Rocky had already pleaded not guilty as the trial got underway in Stockholm on Tuesday. On Thursday, the U.S. rapper described his version of events in more detail, saying that he was approached by a group of men on June 30, as he was trying to rent an electric scooter, CNN reported.
"We thought that the behavior of these guys was strange, it got a bit scary," the Rocky said, told the court. When he and his associates walked away, he testified on Thursday, two men - including the plaintiff - followed them.
Rocky testified that he thought the men following his entourage were under the influence of drugs.
"We pleaded and we begged and we said, 'Look man, we don't want to fight y'all'," Rocky said, according to NBC. But the men went on to attack his security guard, he said.
"At this point we are really scared. I saw my security guard being cut, bleeding," Rocky continued.
The prosecution has argued that evidence shows Rocky and his associates did not act in self-defense when the assault began. They also stand accused of using a bottle to attack the plaintiff and is seeking more than $14,000 in damages. NBC identified the alleged victim as Mustafa Jafari.
Swedish prosecutors have also said Rocky and his associates edited a video of the fracas the rapper posted on his Instagram to make it appear as though the rapper's group were the victims, rather than the instigators.
Investigators also found the glass fragment of a bottle on Rocky's sweater. Rocky said on Thursday that he and his associates had picked up bottles to prevent the plaintiff from using them, according to NBC. He denied using a bottle to attack the plaintiff.
If convicted, Rocky could face up to two years in jail, even though Swedish criminal justice experts cautioned that the maximum sentence was unlikely to be imposed in this case. He had been in Sweden headlining a two-day hip-hop festival.
Among those present in the crowded courtroom were the rapper's mother, Renee Black, and President Trump's special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert C. O'Brien.
"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 a senior State Department official earlier this week. A State Department spokesman said on Thursday that O'Brien himself would not be commenting on the case.
Pressure on the Swedish government has mounted in recent weeks to release the three suspects. Among those demanding the U.S. rapper's release were some Democratic Party lawmakers and celebrities, including Kanye West and Justin Bieber. Trump has tweeted about the case and called Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to urge him to release Rocky.
Some Swedes have balked at Trump's advocacy, seeing it as an attempt to interfere in the independence of the Swedish judicial system. Trump implied that the rapper was being treated unfairly - writing on Twitter that "Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States" - and added that the country should focus on its "real crime problem."
According to the World Justice Project, Sweden ranks 4th worldwide in the reliability of its rule of law - far ahead of the United States, which ranks 20th.
Swedish authorities presented a vast array of evidence - including CCTV footage, photos and text messages - during this week's trial in Stockholm.