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Extradition part of ‘smear campaign’: Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called attempts to extradite him to Sweden part of a "smear campaign" after he was granted bail in London.

Extradition part of 'smear campaign': Assange

The 39-year-old Australian said he would continue to protest his innocence in the face of allegations that he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm and vowed to continue releasing secret US documents through his website.

Following his release Thursday after nine days in a London prison since his arrest on a Swedish warrant on December 7th, Assange told the BBC the allegations against him were “a very successful smear campaign and a very wrong one.”

He also told reporters that he expected the US, which has condemned the WikiLeaks cable releases, to bring spy charges against him.

Assange was freed after the High Court in London rejected an attempt by British lawyers acting for Sweden to keep him in jail while he fights the extradition attempt, a process that could take months.

As part of his bail conditions, he must live at friend’s Georgian mansion near the rural town of Bungay in Suffolk, eastern England. He has also been electronically tagged, is subject to a curfew and must report to police daily.

Assange’s release was the result of a nine-day battle by his lawyers. After denying him bail on December 7th, a judge granted it on Tuesday, but kept the Australian in custody while prosecuting lawyers appealed at the High Court.

Speaking to jubilant supporters on the steps of the court building after that appeal was denied on Thursday, Assange said, “I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it — which we have not yet — the evidence from these allegations.”

WikiLeaks has caused embarrassment and anger in Washington by releasing hundreds of classified US diplomatic cables and his supporters have linked his detention to the massive leak.

As Assange arrived at Ellingham Hall, the 10-bedroomed Suffolk mansion that will be his home over the coming months, he said he expected the US to bring legal action against him.

“We have heard today from one of my US lawyers, yet to be confirmed, but a serious matter, that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me, coming from a secret US grand jury investigation,” he said.

He expressed fears that the extradition proceedings to Sweden were “actually an attempt to get me into a jurisdiction which will then make it easier to extradite me to the US.”

Swedish prosecutors have denied the case has anything to do with WikiLeaks.

Ellingham Hall, set in 240 hectares of parkland, belongs to Vaughan Smith, a former army officer and journalist who founded the Frontline Club, a media club in London which acts as WikiLeaks’ British base.

“It is very nice to be free for Christmas and to smell the fresh air,” Assange said as he arrived amid falling snow.

Assange said he had been held in solitary confinement for much of his time in London’s Wandsworth Prison.

High Court Judge Duncan Ouseley granted the former computer hacker bail after rejecting the prosecution’s argument that he was a flight risk.

“The court does not approach this case on the basis that this is a fugitive from justice who seeks to avoid interrogation and prosecution,” he told the packed court as Assange looked on from the dock.

However, supporters had to pay £200,000 ($312,700) upfront as part of a £240,000 surety.

Assange’s mother, Christine, told reporters outside court, “I’m very, very happy with the decision. I can’t wait to see my son and to hold him close.”

The latest US cables released by WikiLeaks on Friday showed the International Committee of the Red Cross provided US diplomats in 2005 with evidence of the systematic use of torture by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

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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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