[This is an English version of my article in Danish from Thursday. Original here]
On Thursday the Swedish prosecutor announced, that she no longer will investigate 3 of the 4 allegations of sexual misconduct, that has been leveled against Julian Assange.
Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks. The organization is around 10 years old, and from the very beginning, it’s been cutting edge with regards to source protection, technology and handling classified materials. Five years ago, two events took place, more or less simultaneously, that since have been defining, both for WikiLeaks, which undeniably now is one of the most important journalistic entities in the world, and for Assange, who for years, have been locked up in an embassy, surrounded by police.
War-logs & diplomatic cables
One of the events was, that WikiLeaks in concert with international media (The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and many others) in 2010 published hundreds of thousands of leaked, classified documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as secret, diplomatic cables from US diplomatic missions all over the world.
The most widely known single example – one that should’ve been wall-to-wall for months on all major TV-networks – is the Collateral Murder video, showing a US attack helicopter, hovering over Baghdad, mowing down Reuters reports and civilians from a mile away. For good measure, they afterwards do the same to a father who comes along in a van with his two small children, and becomes guilty of stopping the car, trying to tend to the wounded.
The whistleblower who provided all these documents to WikiLeaks, was the US soldier Chelsea Manning, who – after a judicial farce – is now serving 35 years in a military prison.
The other event that occurred in 2010, was that during a visit to Sweden, prior to publication of the Iraq War Logs, Julian Assange was claimed to have sexually assaulted two women.
For the record: I can’t and won’t pontificate on what happened – or didn’t happen – between Assange and the two women. Only he and they know that. It’s irresponsible and silly to accuse either of them of all sorts of things, without evidence. Assange – as well as anybody else – has the right to be presumed innocent, until proven otherwise; the alleged victims have a right to be taken seriously and all parties have a right, to have the case tried in a court of law. If there is a case, that is. If, despite this caveat, there is anything one can say, it is that the Swedish prosecution, consistently has acted, as if there is no case.
Five years after the alleged assaults is supposed to have occurred, we’ve not come one inch closer to a resolution; quite the opposite, actually. The statutes of limitations in 3 of the 4 allegations are expiring these days, and the prosecutor, has now casually announced, that she doesn’t intend to do anything at all in this regard.
This is amazing. To understand just how amazing, let’s look at a few of the media-induced myths, often clouding the issue.
Assange hasn’t been charged
A Google-search for “Julian Assange Rapist”, yields 660,000 results, including a huge number of mainstream media articles, from which the idea that Assange is charged with (if not, declared guilty of) rape, comes across.
But Julian Assange is not charged with rape – or any other crime. His extradition to Sweden is demanded, because they want to question him. Afterwards the prosecutor will have to decide if she believe there’s reason to try him in a court of law or alternatively, if the investigation should be discontinued, due a lack of evidence. There are no charges, no indictments, no trial.
But, but but… Weren’t there two Swedish women who went to the police? Didn’t he go to prison? Hasn’t he been under house arrest for two years in the UK? Didn’t Sweden issue an international arrest warrant for him? Didn’t he spend the past 3 years, in the confines of the very small (trust me, it really IS very small) Ecuadorian embassy in London? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Assange in Sweden
Julian Assange is in Sweden in 2010. Here he engages in sex with two women (at separate occasions). Subsequently one of the women is worried that she might have been infected with a sexually transmitted disease. The two women goes to a police station to inquire, if she can force Assange to take be subject to an STD-test. After listening to the women, the police (not the women themselves) believes a crime might have been committed. Later, at least one of the women feels railroaded by the police. She wanted to know, if she’d contracted a disease – not report Assange for rape or any other crime.
Let’s pause here. How do I know this stuff? Do I just uncritically trust Assange on this, or what? No. Actually I don’t care much, what he’s saying about this matter. The police report from the interview with the two women has been leaked, and is available online, both in the original Swedish [pdf] version, and translated into English.
Julian Assange – still in Sweden – is now sought by the police, suspected of sexual misconduct. He shows up at a police station in Stockholm, is questioned, answers all questions, seems like he has no clue what’s going on, is free to go afterwards.
Let’s pause again. How do I know this? Well, the police interview with Assange also leaked, and is available online.
Shortly after the questioning, senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finné decides to drop the rape investigation:
Here it might all have stopped – or, at least it could’ve been dealt with, in a reasonable manner. But a junior prosecutor from another city, Marianne Ny, reopens the case, and from here, everything turns really weird. On several levels.
Julian Assange is going to London to oversee the publication of the Iraq War Logs with The Guardian, so he contacts Swedish authorities to makes sure it’s okay for him to leave the country. It is. He heads for the airport. Shortly hereafter, the prosecutor issues an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest… just after telling him it would be okay to leave.
Assange in the UK
He arrives in the UK. The media goes haywire. What should’ve been a journalistic blockbuster about illegal Western wars and their consequences, is to some extent overshadowed by tabloid gossip about Assange and his dick. US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, is asked what he thinks about the Swedish developments: “Sounds good to me”, he says.
I’m sure it does.
Sweden demands Assange be extradited from the UK. He and his legal team opposes (not that hard to understand, given that he just left Sweden, has been interviewed and was granted permission to leave) and now the UK judicial system goes to work. He attends a police station, is thrown in Belmarsh prison for 10 days, released on (an enormous) bail, guaranteed by a handful of celebrities. Next the extradition is appealed at two UK courts, Assange’s passport is taken from him and he spends the next two years under house arrest in the countryside, complete with an electronic bracelet and orders to check in at the local police station once a day. Again, we should remember that Assange still hasn’t been charged with any crime. A loophole in the European Arrest Warrant agreement, allows people to be extradited even without charges laid against them. The UK is trying very hard to change that.
In conclusion, the High Court in London says: “fuck off to Sweden” and denies Assange further appeal. Now we’re in 2012.
Extradition to the US?
From the very beginning, Assange and his lawyers have expressed concern, that the whole affair will end up with his extradition to the United States, where it’s beyond doubt, that there’s a huge, ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, it’s sources and it’s staff, primarily Julian Assange himself. In parallel with all this, Chelsea Manning (the alleged source for the WikiLeaks revelations) is court martialed in the US, after going through a pre-trial detention, formaly critized by the UN as cruel and inhuman and “tantamount to torture”. It’s impossible to say for sure, how well-founded the concern is, but it’s hard to blame someone in Julian Assange’s place, for being cautious. Furthermore, it’s a fact that the UK pretty often denies extradition to the US, while the same can’t be said about Sweden in recent times.
Time is running out for Assange, who then resorts to drastic measures.
Asylum by Ecuador
Julian Assange walks through the door at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London – a tiny apartment in a posh neighborhood, literally right next to Harrods – and applies for political asylum. Which he is granted, after waiting in limbo for a while. The media is gobsmacked. Political Asylum? That’s something WE provide dissidents from, say Russia, Not something other countries provide our dissidents. But political asylum he gets – not because of the Swedish matter, but because Ecuador finds his fear of political persecution from the US to be well-founded.
Since then, Assange has spent 3 years in a “closet” at the embassy. Without sunlight (apart from a few times where he dared appear through a window), without the right to an hour of out-of-cell time, that even prisoners in solitary confinement are normally entitled to. Without anything at all, really.
The complete absurdity of the situation dawned upon me, a few years back, when I went to the embassy: uniformed police all over the place, what seemed to be snipers on the roofs, vans with surveillance equipment, cars parked across from the embassy, with parking licenses issued to anti terror units! At one point, the UK came extremely close to completely ditching international law and diplomatic convention, when they threatened to storm the embassy to apprehend Assange – so close in fact, that they did send police into the building , but called off the raid last minute, following a shitstorm on social media and angry protesters in the street outside.
Only massive pressure from a united South American continent, made the UK rethink it’s position. Since then, the massive police presence has “only” been used to surround the embassy. 24/7. Every single day, for three years.
So far the bill for this has reached 12 million Pounds, paid for by the British tax payers. For what? Extraditing a guy – who hasn’t even been charged – to Sweden? Come one. An eventual sentence, should he at some point be found guilty in a court of law (again again: Assange hasn’t been charged) will be less than what he’s already “served” under house arrest and in the confines of the embassy.
And now we’re approaching the heart of the matter: What does all this have to do with Sweden? With the two women, Assange is alleged to have molested? That’s what this whole mess is about, right?
It’s getting really hard to see that this should be the case.
Julian Assange and his lawyers have consistently said, that he’d be more than happy to be interviewed again. He says he’d love to get it over with and to be able to tell his side of the story. He could do so in writing, via phone/Skype or it could happen by interviewing him in person, in the UK. For the first 4 and half years, Sweden categorically denied to do so, without providing any serious explanation. In fact, prosecutor Marianne Ny, for a long time maintained that it would be illegal to interview Assange in the UK [Swedish]. Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign minister said the same thing in 2012.
This is a really, really strange thing to say, since Swedish police routinely questions people – witnesses as well as suspects – abroad. We’ve known so for years and years, both because articles kept popping up in the media about it, and because Swedish lawyers, policemen and prosecutors have complained that it hasn’t happened in this case, a long time ago.
Hilarity ensued, when a freedom of information request recently showed, that in the period Assange has been in the UK – the period, during which it was claimed that interviewing him here would be illegal – Sweden has interviewed a full 44 other people. In England.
In the beginning of this year, we found ourselves in the absolutely ridiculous situation, that both Assange, his lawyers, Ecuador, the UK as well as large parts of Swedish public opinion (including a sizable portion of the political and legal elite) begged/demanded that the prosecutor should quit sitting on her hands, and travel to London to interview him. Nothing happened. It wouldn’t be helpful, Marianne Ny said. “You’re going to Sweden”, they said. “The case can only move forward, once you’re in custody of the Swedish Authorities.”
In fact Assange has accepted this long ago, but asked for guarantees that Sweden wouldn’t hand him over to the US. To this day, both Sweden, the UK and the US refuse to provide any such guarantee, even though it’s established, that it would be possible to do so.
Here, for example, is what the Swedish Justice Department writes on it’s own website:
The tune only began to change – slightly – when a Swedish court made clear, that the prosecutor has failed in her duty, by doing absolutely nothing to move the case forward for the past five years . Now she all of a sudden could see the point in traveling to London. That’s what she publicly at least. But she still didn’t do anything at all, for more than seven months. Very recently, she sent an employee to London, but failed to make an appointment with the embassy. So she went back home, and tried to make it seem as if Ecuador and Assange didn’t want to play ball.
It didn’t work. Especially not when an internal document surfaced from the Swedish department of justice, showing that Ecuador gave the go ahead, from the very beginning of his stay at the embassy:
The foreign ministry of Ecuador, wrote in a press release a few days ago, that they’ve tried no less than 31 times, to facilitate an interview with Assange [Spanish].
Now the prosecutor is on holiday; the statute of limitation is expiring; the decision has been made: the investigation into 3 of the 4 allegations are now dropped, without ever deciding if there’s sufficient evidence to prosecute.
What purpose does all this serve? Justice? For whom? The women (who didn’t even themselves want to press charges against Assange – and who, if there’ve been crimes committed against them, haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom for 5 full years)?
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch as well as 59 human rights and civil society organizations have all come out against the Swedish prosecutors extreme inaction and unwillingness to resolve the situation.
Following the decision to drop the investigation, the lawyer for one of the women said:
I’ll let that be the final words. Nothing has changed for Julian Assange – he’s still locked up the embassy, without charges. He’ll still be arrested by British police the moment he steps outside. WikiLeaks is still one of the most important journalistic organizations in the world.
If you can stomach more about this, I highly recommend this documentary from Australian television
Peter Kofod is a Danish writer and activist.
He was a human shield in Iraq in 2003 and the first Scandinavian to interview NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.