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UN expert defends Assange article criticizing Swedish police

A UN human rights expert, under fire for a controversial article about the rape allegations facing Julian Assange, told AFP on Tuesday he stands by claims that Swedish police sought to "silence" the WikiLeaks founder.

UN expert defends Assange article criticizing Swedish police
Julian Assange following a court hearing in London in 2019. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Nils Melzer, has been one of Assange's most vocal defenders since the Australian whistleblower's April arrest in London.

Last week, Melzer posted a blog on the platform Medium that cast doubt on rape and sexual assault accusations made by two Swedish women against Assange and accused Swedish police of serious misconduct. The blog has triggered an uproar.

As of Tuesday, 272 human rights lawyers, activists and others had signed a letter denouncing Melzer's post as “unbecoming of a UN mandate-holder.”

READ ALSO: UN expert accuses Sweden of 'collective persecution' of AssangeUN expert accuses Sweden of 'collective persecution' of Assange
UN torture rapporteur Nils Mezler announcing a report in March. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP/TT

The Swedish allegations against Assange stem from encounters in August 2010. One woman accused him of deliberately ripping a condom during intercourse, against her will, but charges in that case were dropped when the statute of limitations expired.

A second allegation involves a woman who accused Assange of initiating sex with her while she was sleeping without wearing a condom. The statute of limitations in that rape case expires next year.

In the blog, Melzer wrote that the two incidents were “not exactly scenarios that have the ring of 'rape' in any language other than Swedish,” which the UN expert speaks fluently.

The activists' letter said Melzer had demonstrated “not only insensitivity to victims of sexual assault, but also a profound lack of understanding that does a disservice to the mandate he represents.”

The letter demands a response from top UN officials, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet's office did not reply to request for comment.

'No one cares' 

In an interview with AFP, Melzer said he regretted that his article had caused “misunderstandings”, adding: “But I fully stand by the substance.”

Melzer said that he has seen substantial evidence, including police reports, demonstrating that Swedish authorities inflated the accusations against Assange for political reasons.

“All the indications I see here, they really point to the deliberate abuse of the judicial system to silence Assange,” he said.

READ ALSO: 

In particular, Melzer claimed the second alleged victim went to police only to compel Assange to take an HIV test and that police initiated a rape complaint “contrary to the accounts and wishes” of the woman affected.

The alleged rape victim's lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Melzer's post.

Assange, who took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London for seven years to avoid a British extradition order to Sweden, was arrested on April 11th after Quito gave him up. Swedish authorities then reopened their 2010 rape investigation, which had been closed in 2017 with the argument that it was not possible to proceed with the probe as Assange could not be reached.

Melzer said Sweden's interest in justice in the rape case was undermined by the fact that it had done nothing to force accountability for the possible war crimes Assange and WikiLeaks exposed.

“No one cares about those,” said Melzer, who has visited Assange in his British prison.
Melzer, like all UN special rapporteurs, is an independent rights expert who does not speak for the world body.  

By AFP's Ben Simon

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CRIME

Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 

READ ALSO: 

More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

 
The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.” 
 
 
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