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Assange files Sweden extradition appeal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange applied Tuesday for Britain's Supreme Court to hear his appeal against extradition to Sweden, dragging out a legal saga that has already lasted more than a year.

Assange files Sweden extradition appeal

His latest gambit comes less than two weeks after the High Court in London ruled that the 40-year-old Australian could be sent to Sweden to face questioning over claims of rape and sexual assault made by two women.

On December 5th, Assange will ask two High Court judges to rule whether the

case raises a question of general public importance, the only way his appeal

can proceed to Britain’s top court.

“The High Court has received an application from Julian Assange for permission to take the case to the Supreme Court,” a spokesman for the Judiciary of England and Wales told AFP.

Assange has strongly denied the allegations against him, claiming they are politically motivated and linked to the activities of WikiLeaks, which angered the United States by publishing thousands of secret documents.

The former computer hacker spent much of the last year under virtual house arrest since he was first detained in December 2010.

A lower court initially approved Assange’s extradition in February, but he appealed to the High Court which rejected his challenge on November 2nd.

Assange made the application for the Supreme Court to hear the case one day

before the legal time limit.

The judiciary said the High Court would “consider Julian Assange’s application for a certificate of law of general public importance on December 5th”.

Legal sources said a decision was expected on the same day but that it was not certain. If Assange loses he will be extradited to Sweden within 10 days.

According to the the Sweden Vs. Assange website, which is linked to Assange and WikiLeaks, his defence will focus on the validity of the European Arrest Warrant that was issued to him in December last year.

His team will also query whether he can be defined as “accused” despite having not been prosecuted, the website added.

Assange has previously expressed fears that his extradition to Sweden would lead to his transfer to the United States to face as yet unspecified charges of spying.

The legal challenge comes despite the fact that a Swedish public relations firm claimed last week that it had been hired by Assange and that he would soon be returning to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange on suspicion of two counts of sexual molestation and an accusation of rape made by two Swedish women in

August 2010.

In their decision earlier this month, the two judges dealing with his appeal rejected Assange’s claims that the Swedish warrant was invalid because it was issued by a prosecutor and not a court.

They also rejected his assertion that the claims made by the two women would not be offences under English law.

One woman alleged that Assange had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep, and the judges rejected his lawyers’ contention that consent to sex with a condom remained consent when a condom was not used.

The judges also rejected Assange’s argument that he should not be extradited because he was only wanted for questioning, and they denied the arrest warrant was disproportionate, given that Assange offered to be questioned via videolink.

The former hacker caught the world’s attention when WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of classified diplomatic files allegedly obtained by Bradley Manning, a US serviceman who is now in prison in the United States.

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RAPE

‘Negligent rape’: Has Sweden’s sexual consent law led to change?

One year ago, Sweden introduced a law change that meant sex without explicit consent was considered as rape, including when the victim did not actively say 'no'. The Local spoke to experts to find out the impact this has had on court cases and within Swedish society.

'Negligent rape': Has Sweden's sexual consent law led to change?
Experts told The Local Sweden's sexual consent law has had an impact on court cases and in the way people discuss sex and consent in the media and in general.File photo of a Swedish courtroom: Jessica

The law change meant that participants needed to clearly demonstrate that they wanted to engage in sexual activity in order for it to be considered consensual.

Two new offences of “negligent rape” and “negligent sexual abuse” were created for acts where courts found that consent had not been established, but in which the perpetrator had not intended to commit rape or assault. Previously, a decisive factor for a rape conviction was proof that a perpetrator used force, threats, or taken advantage of someone in a vulnerable situation.

The law faced backlash at the time, and had to be clarified after Sweden's Council on Legislation said it was too unclear. Others criticized it as signalpolitik, meaning a policy implemented only for appearances and unlikely to make a real difference. 

Twelve months on, rights organizations say the law has had a measurable impact on court cases and helped change the national discussion on sexual autonomy – but warned there was still work to be done.

'Sweden needs to do more to convict rapists': Amnesty report
File photo of a police officer: Hanna Franzén/TT

'Negligent rape' sentences

“Earlier this year, we looked at 30 court judgments, and these included cases which definitely would not have been considered to be rape before the change in the law; where no violence or other means of force was used,” Katarina Bergehed, an Amnesty International expert in women's rights, told The Local.

Over the past year, the new law has been decisive in at least seven rape cases which went to court, according to an investigation by Swedish radio programme I lagens namn (In the name of the law).

The programme said that of 60 rape cases, the new law was crucial in seven, including six convictions of negligent rape.

A study from the Siren news agency reached the same conclusion, finding that in 84 cases where prosecutors mentioned “negligent rape”, 45 resulted in a rape conviction while six were sentenced for negligent rape. 

READ ALSO:

'Sleeping in the same bed and wearing only underwear does not mean consent'

One of these sentences was confirmed by Sweden's Supreme Court on Sunday, marking the first time the country's highest criminal court made a judgment relating to negligent rape.

The 27-year-old male plaintiff was found guilty of the negligent rape of a woman while staying overnight at her home.

The woman said had agreed he could stay overnight, but made it clear she did not want to have sex. Despite that, the man initiated sexual intercourse. 

Both the perpetrator and the plaintiff said that she was passive throughout the intercourse, and that they did not speak. The plaintiff said she “froze and did not know how to act”, while the perpetrator said he was not sure whether she was awake when he first initiated sexual contact, “but [he] had the impression that she wanted to have sex” and continued because she did not tell him not to. He also said that he stopped the intercourse when he thought she didn't want to continue.

In a statement accompanying its decision, the Supreme Court wrote: “A person who is subjected to sexual acts against their will does not have any responsibility to say no or express their reluctance in any other way. Furthermore, the court notes that the fact that the plaintiff and the perpetrator agreed to sleep in the same bed and that they were dressed in only underwear does not mean that the plaintiff voluntarily participated in the sexual acts.”

The man now faces two years and three months in jail, although this includes sentences for other crimes he was found guilty of. The penalty for the count of negligent rape was eight months’ jail, according to the Supreme Court.

Without the 2018 law, it is likely that the man would have been acquitted, since intent was previously required for a conviction of rape or sexual assault, and the Supreme Court found no evidence of intent.

Sweden's Supreme Court in Stockholm. Photo: Magnus Andersson / TT

'Greater awareness about consent'

The fact that Sweden's law now sets a clear boundary between consensual sex and rape or assault has also helped open up to discussions about sex and consent, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) told The Local.

“There is increased awareness and a greater openness towards talking about [sexual consent] today,” said RFSU's Maria Bergström, when asked what changes she had observed since the consent law was passed.

“For example, we can see that this has made it easier for people who have previously experienced this to put words on what happened to them, and to then perhaps go further with reporting it or seeking support. The law has finally made it clear that one always has a responsibility to ensure that there is consent.”

“There is a much greater awareness and more conversations today on these questions among young men but also in the adult population — we also see that the question is raised by the media in a different way than before,” she said.

Bergström also mentioned the impact of the #MeToo movement in putting the question of consent and boundaries on the political agenda, as women from a wide range of industries came forward with their experiences of assault and harassment, all calling for tangible change.

READ ALSO:

Sweden in Focus: One year on, what did #MeToo achieve in Sweden?
A march for women's rights organized by #MeToo campaigners in Gothenburg. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

'Near impunity for rape'

While the 2018 law is one example of that change, Sweden is a long way from ensuring that all rapists face justice. 

According to the National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå), around 112,000 people were subjected to rape or sexual assault in Sweden in 2018, while only 5,593 such crimes were reported to police. And of those rapes reported to police, only around seven percent went to trial.

“We have near impunity when it comes to rape in this corner of the world that's normally regarded as one of the most gender equal countries, and we simply can’t have that,” said Amnesty International's Katarina Bergehed.

An Amnesty report earlier this year found that questioning was often delayed, and that DNA analyses could take as long as nine months to deliver.

“It’s crucial to deal with rape cases promptly. You need to secure evidence very rapidly otherwise it can disappear, and some evidence risks being deleted on mobile phones. Police are understaffed and resources are often drawn towards other crimes such as gang violence and killings,” said Bergehed. But she added: “The signals we’re getting is that the police are both willing and finally able to resource themselves to deal with rape in an efficient way.”

The Swedish police force announced last month that by next year, 350 investigators would be recruited to deal specifically with cases of rape, sexual violence against children and domestic violence.

Bergehed also pointed to the importance of changing attitudes towards sex and consent across all levels of society.

“Changing a law alone is not sufficient; you need police training, awareness in schools; the whole society needs to change,” she said. “There should of course be justice for rape victims once it happens, but the longer goal is to eradicate rape and sexual violence.”
 

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