Assange to fight extradition to Sweden

Embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will fight an extradition request to Sweden, his lawyer said Tuesday, after British police received a demand to send him to face charges in Stockholm.

Assange to fight extradition to Sweden

Assange’s London-based lawyer Jennifer Robinson said the Australian whistleblower would likely resist being returned to Sweden for fear he could be turned over to the US, where outrage is growing over his revelations.

“[The Swedish prosecutor] said publicly on television last night that all she wants is his side of the story. Now we’ve offered that on numerous occasions. There is no need for him to return to Sweden to do that,” she said.

“I think he will get a fair hearing here in Britain but I think our, his, prospects if he were ever to be returned to the US, which is a real threat, of a fair trial, is, in my view, nigh on impossible,” Robinson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Assange, whose WikiLeaks has published hundreds of confidential US diplomatic cables, sending panic waves through global capitals, is arranging to meet with British police after they received a European arrest warrant for him.

As furious governments around the world slammed WikiLeaks as irresponsible, Swedish authorities want to question him on suspicion of various crimes, including sexual assault.

However, Robinson refused to discuss further details of Assange’s looming meeting with British police, saying only that it was “bizarre” that his legal team had not yet seen a copy of the arrest warrant and had seen no evidence.

Declining to confirm whether Assange was already in Britain as widely reported by media, the lawyer said her client was being “isolated and persecuted” and that death threats had been made on blogs against his son.

“This is obviously part of a broader risk of a threat to Mr. Assange himself,” she said in the ABC interview from London.

“We take these threats of assassination incredibly seriously and they are obviously illegal and those individuals who are citing violence ought to be

considered for prosecution,” Robinson said.

Robinson said both she and fellow British-based Assange lawyer Mark Stephens had been followed and had their phone calls interfered with since taking on the case, but declined to say who she thought was surveilling them.

Robinson said any arrest of Assange would not prevent the publication of more of the 250,000 leaked documents that WikiLeaks is holding, as media groups have agreed an “orderly” publishing schedule for the coming months.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard slammed the publication of leaked confidential diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks as “grossly irresponsible,” saying the information was gathered through an “illegal act.”

Pressed on what Australian laws had been broken by WikiLeaks or Assange, Gillard said federal police were investigating and would advise her “about potential criminal conduct of the individual involved.”

“The foundation stone of WikiLeaks was an illegal act. Let’s not try top put any glosses on this, information would not be on WikiLeaks had there not been an illegal act undertaken,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

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OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the government’s continued silence over his impending extradition to the US is indefensible, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

I have no personal fondness for Julian Assange. I cannot forgive him for not condemning the torrent of abuse and slander suffered by the two Swedish women who, in 2010, accused him of sexual assault. His treatment of them has been shameful. Assange has continued to protest his innocence and has not expressed any regret for what happened

But that was then and this is now. At stake is something much bigger than the fate of one man and two women. And the Swedish government bears a clear share of responsibility for the outcome. 

Sweden’s prosecutors dropped the sexual assault investigation against Assange in 2017. For more than three years, he has been held in a maximum security prison in London while he has fought extradition to the United States on espionage charges. In April, a British court finally approved the extradition and referred the matter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. 

Today (June 17), Patel gave the green light for extradition; Assange has 14 days to appeal. 

Extradition would be a colossal blow against media freedom. Journalists would fear to investigate US military and surveillance operations around the world. Assange himself faces a lifetime in jail for publishing classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including evidence of war crimes

Many Swedish free speech organisations recognise this. “The information obtained thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks is of great public interest. In a democracy, whistleblowers must be protected, not taken to court to become pawns in a political game,” says the Swedish Journalists’ Association. A large number of press freedom and human right organisations have echoed these words, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship, to name but a few.

“Should Assange be extradited to the US, it could have serious consequences for investigative journalism,” says the Swedish branch of Reporters without Borders. “Through the indictment of Assange, the US is also sending a signal to all journalists who want to examine the actions of the US military and security services abroad, or US arms deals for that matter. This also applies to Swedish journalists.”

Last month, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on Patel not to extradite Assange, saying it would have “a chilling effect on media freedom”.  Anna Ardin, one of the women who brought the original accusations of sexual assault, describes the accusations against Assange for espionage as “helt galet” (completely crazy). 

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the continued silence from Rosenbad, the seat of government offices in Stockholm, is indefensible. 

For the seven years in which Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he said consistently and repeatedly that he was prepared to face justice in Sweden, but feared extradition to the United States and therefore required a guarantee that this would not happen. His treatment in the UK is proof that his fears were justified. 

As early as September 2012, The Local quoted Amnesty International on this matter: “If the Swedish authorities are able to confirm publicly that Assange will not eventually find himself on a plane to the USA if he submits himself to the authority of the Swedish courts then this will … it will break the current impasse and second it will mean the women who have levelled accusations of sexual assault are not denied justice.”

And yet, throughout, Sweden’s Ministry of Justice kept quiet. Instead, the Swedish Prosecution Authority stated repeatedly: “Every extradition case is to be judged on its own individual merits. For that reason the Swedish government cannot provide a guarantee in advance that Julian Assange would not be subject to further extradition to the USA.”

In 2016, a United Nations panel decided that Sweden had violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It called on the Swedish authorities to end Assange’s “deprivation of liberty”, respect his freedom of movement and offer him compensation. Again, the government itself remained silent, although Sweden’s director-general for legal affairs said that it disagreed with the panel.

Freedom of speech is one of the four “fundamental laws” that make up the Swedish constitution. There can be no excuse now for Morgan Johansson, Justice Minister, not to speak out in defence of Assange’s role as a whistleblower and journalist. 

Imagine if Assange had revealed Russian war crimes in Ukraine and was being held in Moscow’s high security prison? Every Western leader would be up in arms. 

Assange’s wife Stella Moris has Swedish citizenship. Her life, and that of their two children, will be destroyed if her husband, their father, is sent to rot in a US jail.

At this point in time, when Sweden’s independence in global affairs is in doubt owing to pressure from Turkey over its application to join Nato, it is even more vital for the government to break its silence and help bring the persecution of Julian Assange to an end. 

David Crouch covered Julian Assange’s campaign in the Swedish courts for The Guardian newspaper and is among 1900 journalists to have signed a statement in his defence. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.