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Assange lawyer: fair trial for Julian in Sweden

With Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, his Swedish lawyer on Thursday rejected claims that his client would not be treated fairly by Swedish courts, but remained critical of the way Swedish prosecutors have handled the case.

Assange lawyer: fair trial for Julian in Sweden

Speaking shortly after a UK court ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, Swedish defence attorney Björn Hurtig, who represents the WikiLeaks founder in Sweden, reiterated his disdain for the handling of his client’s case by Swedish prosecutors.

“I’ve long had concerns about how the objectivity of the prosecutors and how they’ve handled the case,” he told The Local.

“They’ve continued to delay the case and made claims that Julian hasn’t been available to be interviewed. They could have interviewed him before. I’ve been saying that for a long time.”

Hurtig explained that Assange’s fears about receiving a fair trial in Sweden also stem from the actions of prosecutors in their handling of the case up to this point.

While sharing his client’s negative views about Swedish prosecutors, Hurtig nevertheless defended the Swedish courts against charges that his client wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Sweden.

“I’m not concerned how he’ll be treated if the case makes it to a court in Sweden,” he said, adding that Swedish judges were not the problem, but the merits of the case itself.

“Whatever happened today in London, it doesn’t change the fact that the rape case against Julian is very weak,” said Hurtig.

Assange has yet to be formally charged with any crime in Sweden as prosecutors continue to carryout their investigation into accusations of rape and sexual molestation filed by two women following an August encounter with the 39-year-old Australian during a visit to Sweden.

Hurtig, who was called to testify by his client’s British legal team at the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition hearing in London, was roundly criticised in the ruling issued on Thursday by Judge Howard Riddle, who called the Swedish lawyer “unreliable” claiming he had attempted to “mislead the court”.

“Mr. Hurtig said in his statement that it was astonishing that Ms. Ny made no effort to interview his client. In fact this is untrue,” judge Riddle wrote in the ruling, referring to Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny.

The statements refer to evidence provided by Hurtig regarding efforts made by Ny to question Assange in her investigation into rape and sex-crime allegations against him.

Hurtig at first told the court that Ny hadn’t attempted to interview Assange. He later amended his statement to include text message traffic between him and Ny which he said he had forgotten.

While Hurtig eventually corrected his statement, he did so in a “low key” way which at first resulted in the judge Riddle failing to grasp the significance of the oversight.

“I do not accept that this was a genuine mistake,” wrote the judge.

“It cannot have slipped his mind. For over a week he was attempting (he says without success) to contact a very important client about a very important matter. The statement was a deliberate attempt to mislead the court.”

While Hurtig had not yet reviewed the ruling, he was quick to dismiss the judge’s claims about his reliability.

“I’m a reliable person; I’m a reliable witness,” he told The Local.

“There are unreliable people involved in the case, but I’m not one of them.”

He also dismissed claims that Assange’s extradition to Sweden would pave the way for his eventual extradition to the United States to face possible charges related to WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of classified US government documents.

“I don’t think he’ll be extradited from Sweden to the United States,” he said.

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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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