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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange accusers had ‘an agenda’: lawyer

As WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange awaits his extradition hearing in London related to rape and sexual molestation allegations, his Swedish attorney lashed out at his client’s accusers, claiming they had “an agenda”.

Assange accusers had 'an agenda': lawyer

At the same time, legal scholars in Sweden rejected claims that a Swedish prosecutor’s investigation was politically motivated.

Speaking with the Daily Mail newspaper on Sunday, Swedish defence attorney Björn Hurtig said he had access to information, currently being kept secret by Swedish prosecutors investigating the case, which would expose the case as “a charade”.

“It was, I believe, more about jealousy and disappointment on their part,” Hurtig told the newspaper.

“I can prove that at least one of them had very big expectations for something to happen with Julian.”

Hurtig said he was still awaiting permission from Swedish prosecutors to present what he characterised as “sensational” information about the rape investigation. However, Swedish rules stipulate that the evidence can only be presented in Sweden.

While yet to be formally charged with any crime, Assange is wanted for questioning in an investigation led by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny into sex crimes allegations stemming from a visit by the WikiLeaks’ founder to Sweden in August.

Assange has maintained his innocence, hinting that the allegations are part of a conspiracy to damage his reputation in the wake of several high profile releases of classified US documents by the whistleblower website.

However, a Swedish legal scholar dismissed as “absurd” the notion that Nye’s investigation was somehow politically motivated.

Hans Eklund, a law professor in criminal law at Uppsala University, believes much of the speculation about supposed ulterior motives on the part of the Swedish prosecutor likely comes from a misunderstanding of the Swedish legal system.

“There is no political conspiracy in the way the judiciary has handled this case,” Eklund told The Local.

“That’s totally absurd, just ridiculous. Something taken from thin air.”

He explained that the Swedish constitution stipulates that public prosecutors remain non-partisan and impartial.

“Politicians don’t get to have a say in any of the decisions related to administration or judicial matters, and ministers are absolutely prohibited from getting involved,” Eklund said.

“If the United States tried to pressure a Swedish prosecutor with threats, the prosecutor would report it immediately and excuse him or herself from the case.”

He understood that the withdrawal of a junior prosecutor’s initial arrest warrant for Assange only hours after it was first issued in August may have added fuel to conspiracy theorists who believe the investigation is politically motivated.

But Eklund believes it likely comes down to a simple difference of opinion between two prosecutors when presented with the evidence.

“It’s a borderline case of rape, which comes down a legal assessment of the case,” he said.

“One prosecutor made one assessment, and another prosecutor made another assessment. It’s not stranger than when two different courts reach a different verdict in the same case.”

Iain Cameron, a colleague of Eklund’s at Uppsala and an expert in international criminal law, also highlighted the lack of knowledge about how Sweden’s prosecutors operate in reflecting on the proliferation of conspiracy theories.

“I think much of the speculation surrounding this case stems from a misunderstanding of the principles applied in Sweden,” he told The Local.

While many outside observers may view Ny’s continued pursuit of the investigation as an active choice, Cameron explained that Swedish rules stipulate she must continue with her probe.

“If there is evidence that a crime has been committed and the prosecutor deems that evidence to be strong enough to gain a conviction, the prosecutor is bound to go ahead with the case in Sweden,” he explained.

“In other countries, however, mitigating circumstances can result in a prosecutor not pushing forward with a case.”

He theorised that the false start at the beginning of the Assange probe may have resulted in questions about the strength of the evidence against him.

“Initially, the prosecutor probably thought there was evidence of a crime, but there may have been doubts about whether it was enough to gain a conviction,” Cameron said.

But according to Assange’s attorney Hurtig, the women who have accused his client did so only after learning that both had had intimate relations with the 39-year-old Australian within days of one another and after he refused to take a test for sexually transmitted diseases.

Hurtig suggested that police and prosecutors may have convinced one of the accusers that a sex crime had taken place, claiming she didn’t feel she had been raped “until she went to the police station”.

“She was encouraged by a policewoman and a junior female prosecutor to think that way. While I don’t think there was any conspiracy, Julian says he is being victimised because of his role with WikiLeaks. The fact that he has a high profile has made him a target for opponents,” he told the newspaper.

While casting doubt on the accusers’ motivations for reporting Assange to the police in the first place, Assange’s attorney Hurtig also expressed confidence in Sweden’s legal system.

“This is not a banana republic,” he said he told the Daily Mail.

“I’m convinced that as soon as the case is heard in Sweden it will be thrown out.”

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

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.

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