SHARE
COPY LINK

JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange: Swedish rape case ‘an empty black box’

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is on Tuesday to face his second day in a British court to continue his fight against extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation.

The 39-year-old Australian’s lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is expected to argue that Assange could face the death penalty if extradited on from Sweden to the United States on separate charges relating to the whistleblowing website.

The lawyer spent the first day of the two-day hearing Monday arguing that Assange would face a “flagrant denial of justice” if extradited over allegations of rape and molestation.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations he raped one woman in Sweden and sexually molested another, moves which he claims are

politically motivated.

The former computer hacker arrived at the high-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in southeast London wearing a blue suit, white shirt and a red tie and waved cheerily to supporters in the public gallery as he made his way to the dock.

Following the end of the first day’s evidence, Assange claimed that a “black box” of accusations against him was being opened to inspection and that the claims of his alleged victims were “empty”.

“On the outside of that black box has been written the word ‘rape’. That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened,” he told reporters outside court.

“I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it.”

The judge is expected to defer his ruling until later this month. If the decision goes against Assange, he will be able to appeal all the way to England’s supreme court.

Robertson said a rape trial in Sweden would violate Assange’s human rights.

“He would be tried behind closed doors in a flagrant denial of justice,” he told the court.

“The Swedish custom and practice of throwing the press and public out of court when rape trials begin is one that we say is blatantly unfair, not only by British standards but also by European standards,” Robertson added.

Assange’s lawyers are also expected to argue that the extradition request is unacceptable because he has not been charged with any crime.

Having won worldwide notoriety for his website’s release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, Assange insists his real fear is that Washington will try to persuade Sweden to pass him on to American authorities.

Robertson argued that a rape charge would not count as rape under European law.

“The (Swedish) prosecutor describes this charge as ‘minor rape’. That is a contradiction in terms, rape is not a minor offence,” the lawyer said.

But Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish authorities, said the arrest warrant alleges that Assange had sexual intercourse with one of the women

“improperly exploiting the fact that she was asleep”.

Montgomery said talk of extradition to the United States “depends on a factual hypothesis that has not yet been established as being real”.

Assange, who was arrested in London on December 7th, faces a widening criminal probe in the United States having enraged Washington by releasing the cables detailing US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the work of US diplomats.

He was released on bail a week after his arrest and has been staying at a supporter’s country mansion under strict conditions.

Meanwhile a British journalist from The Guardian has been expelled from Russia after he reported claims in the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that the country had become a “mafia state”, the newspaper said.

Luke Harding, the daily’s Moscow correspondent, flew back to the Russian capital at the weekend after two months in London reporting on the contents of the US cables, given to his paper by WikiLeaks.

But he was refused entry when his passport was checked on arrival.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

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.

SHOW COMMENTS