Swedish Prosecutors Reopen Rape Case Against Julian Assange

Julian Assange in custody in the UK on May 1, 2019
Julian Assange in custody in the UK on May 1, 2019
Photo: AP

Swedish prosecutors have reopened their investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on charges of rape made by a woman in 2010. Assange skipped bail in June 2012 while in London and claimed asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he lived for almost seven years.

Eva-Marie Persson, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution in Sweden, announced the reopening of the rape case at a press conference in Stockholm this morning that was broadcast live on YouTube by Kremlin-financed news organization Ruptly.

“After reviewing the preliminary investigation… my assessment is there is still probable cause to suspect Mr. Assange committed rape or a lesser offense,” Persson said, according to an English-language translator at the press conference.

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Prosecutors will seek Assange’s extradition to Sweden, but it’s not immediately clear whether that will actually happen since the controversial publisher faces extradition to the U.S. on hacking charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Assange, a 47-year-old Australian national, is charged in the U.S. with trying to help Chelsea Manning crack the password on a government computer with classified material back in 2010.

Swedish prosecutors dropped a sexual assault charge, independent of the rape charge brought by a different woman, back in May 2017 because they couldn’t properly interview Assange while he was claiming asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. The statute of limitations for that charge has expired.

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“The decision taken... to discontinue the investigation on the 19th of May, 2017, was not motivated by difficulty related to evidence, but was instead entirely based on the circumstances at the time which prohibited the furtherance of the investigation,” Persson said.

The rape case was also suspended because Swedish prosecutors were unable to interview Assange while he was in the embassy. The statute of limitations on the rape charge in Sweden expires on August 17, 2020.

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Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum on April 11 and the WikiLeaks founder was physically removed from the embassy. Assange was subsequently sentenced to just under one year in prison by British prosecutors for skipping bail back in 2012. U.S. prosecutors revealed a single hacking charge against Assange only after he was apprehended by UK authorities.

Persson would like to speak with Assange via video link to formally notify him of the charges, consistent with Swedish law. If Assange declines to voluntarily communicate with Swedish authorities via video link they may visit him in prison in the UK. Either way, prosecutors would eventually like to extradite Assange to Sweden to face charges.

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Curiously, Swedish prosecutors note that the U.S. Justice Department still hasn’t formally requested Assange’s extradition to the U.S. but they note that such a request is supposed to be filed with UK courts “no later” than June 14. Assange formally declined voluntary extradition to the U.S. on May 2.

Persson stressed that if Assange were extradited to Sweden, he wouldn’t be sent to a third country like the United States without the explicit consent of the UK government. One of the reasons that Assange said he claimed asylum in London was that he suspected American prosecutors would try to bring charges against him unrelated to the sex assault cases. Assange is concerned about being charged under the Espionage Act in the U.S. and his defenders note that unlike the rest of the developed world the U.S. currently has the death penalty. Ecuadorian authorities were allegedly told by British prosecutors that Assange would not face the death penalty if his asylum was revoked. The details of the arrangement between the British and Ecuadorian governments is still unclear.

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Journalists asked Swedish prosecutors today what kind of evidence they may have against Assange, aside from the oral testimony of the rape victim. Persson declined to discuss the specific evidence they may have for the time being, but she said that there was sufficient probable cause to continue the investigation.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

nightgoat
Night Goat

As Trotsky wrote, “He who slanders the victim aids the executioner.” The re-opening of this politically-manufactured case against Assange is part of a coordinated effort by the US, UK and Sweden to not only smear and de-humanize him, but to fast-track his extradition (or extraordinary rendition) to the US under Temporary Surrender treaty arrangements between Sweden and the US. It is a frontal assault on the democratic principles of free speech and a free press. Free Julian Assange! Free Chelsea Manning!

Facts about the Swedish charade via Justice4Assange:

2. In Sweden, Assange has not been charged and he is not wanted for trial. The UK Supreme Court acknowledged that Assange is not charged in Sweden. The prosecutor acknowledged in correspondence with UK authorities that the matter is a ’preliminary investigation’, and that no decision had been made to charge. Sweden attempted to drop the investigation in 2013, but was told not to by the UK CPS, which also discouraged Sweden from interrogating Assange in the UK despite it being routine for Sweden and standard practice throughout the EU. The CPS destroyed key emails relating to Assange’s Swedish extradition, an investigation by Stefania Maurizi showed.

4. Assange has not “refused to come to trial or indeed be questioned” Assange has asked that he be interrogated in the UK by Swedish authorities since 2010, but the prosecutor declined. Correspondence from 2015 shows Assange agreed unconditionally to a questioning. Since he was arrested in 2010, 44 other people have been questioned in the UK by Sweden. The Swedish Court of Appeal (confirmed by Sweden’s Supreme Court) made a finding in 2014 that the prosecutor in the case had breached her duty in the Assange case by refusing to progress the case by questioning Assange in the UK for 5 years.

5. Assange did not “flee”. Assange stayed in Sweden for 5 weeks in order to be questioned, during which time the prosecutor declined to question him on a number of occasions. Assange left Sweden with the consent of the prosecutor. He entered the Ecuadorian embassy and applied for asylum, which is his right, and was granted it in relation to the US espionage case.

6. Assange has already been cleared and the woman says the police made it up in order to ’get him’. On August 25 2010, Assange was cleared of the suspicion of ’rape’ by Stockholm’s Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne, who stated she “made the assessment that the evidence did not disclose any offence of rape”. On 25 of August, the prosecutor stated that “The conduct alleged disclosed no crime at all and that file (K246314-10) would be closed”. The case was only resurrected after a politician, Claes Borgstrom, intervened in the case. The police report states that she felt “railroaded by police and others around her”. While she was at the police station to inquire about HIV tests she sent messages to friends saying that she that she “did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on grabbing him” (14:26) and “did not want to accuse JA for anything”; that “it was the police who made up the charges”; and that she was “shocked when they arrested JA” because she “only wanted him to take a [HIV] test” (17:06).