Some sources for understanding the Assange criminal charges

Frustrated with the incomplete or unreliable reporting about the accusations made against Julian Assange, I compiled some research on the allegations that have been made against him.

One important point, as Glenn Greenwald points out, is that “No responsible person should have formed a judgment one way or the other as to whether Assange is guilty of anything in Sweden. He has not even been charged, let alone tried or convicted, of sexual assault, and he is entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

But with a closer look also reveals strong reasons for suspicion about his treatment. Probably the most glaring is the refusal to question Assange on British soil. Assange has repeatedly suggested this recourse, and offered to make himself available to questioning in London. It is difficult to imagine how this could be justified. He has not been charged, but merely summoned for questioning. If the Swedish prosecutor truly wants to question Assange on the charges, there is little reason it could not do so in London, where Assange was in British custody (under house arrest) for over a year. The insistence by the prosecutor that he first be extradited to Sweden strongly suggests that the motive behind the move is not to question Assange, but to place him under new legal arrangements under Swedish law, a situation that could include the possibility of his being extradited to the US.

There are other things as well. The fact that the Swedish Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne, initially declared that “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” and cancelled the warrant (Aug. 22, 2010), which was only subsequently reopened by another special prosecutor, speaks volumes.

Also telling is the timing. The charges sprang up right in the middle of Cablegate, when the US political elite is calling for Assange’s assassination and US intelligence services were undoubtedly taking concerted action to try to undermine Wikileaks.

Finally, the women’s stories are suspect. They appear only to have complained about Assange after having chatted with each other and found out that he had slept with both of them.

In addition, the complaints appear to have been inconsistent. The rape charge refers to the allegation by one of the women that she was “asleep” when Assange had sex with her. A phone text message by this woman, which is not yet made publicly available (but has been described by one of Assange’s lawyers, who has been permit to see it), says, on the contrary that “I was half-asleep” while having sex with him. Quite a distinction there.

One should also note that the ofredande charge, commonly translated in English as “molestation,” actually refers to a misdemeanor level harassment/annoyance of another person, and can be applied to instances as varied as noise complaints and rock-throwing, besides sexual harassment. It appears to be quite misleading to associate it with the connotations of the English “molestation.”

***

compilation of sources

02/08/11 Wall Street Journal

 A lawyer representing Swedish prosecutors defended their handling of the case, and said Sweden’s definition of rape matches that held “throughout the EU.” The lawyer, Clare Montgomery, also painted Mr. Assange as an elusive suspect, saying he left Sweden the day prosecutors told his lawyer that they intended to issue an arrest warrant for him. In the late 1990s, Ms. Montgomery represented Augusto Pinochet in his attempt to resist extradition from the U.K. to face charges that he had people tortured and assassinated while ruling Chile.

02/08/11 The Guardian

Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer was shown scores of text messages sent by the two women who accuse him of rape and sexual assault, in which they speak of “revenge” and extracting money from him, an extradition hearing was told.

Björn Hurtig, who represents the WikiLeaks founder in Sweden, told Belmarsh magistrates court that he had been shown “about 100” messages sent between the women and their friends while supervised by a Swedish police officer, but had not been permitted to make notes or share the contents with his client.

“I consider this to be contrary to the rules of a fair trial,” he said. A number of the messages “go against what the claimants have said”, he told the court.

One message referred to one of the women being “half asleep” while having sex with Assange, Hurtig said, as opposed to fully asleep. “That to my mind is the same as saying ‘half awake’.”

His lawyer, Mark Stephens, said: “We have seen Hamlet without the princess. We have seen a prosecutor who has been ready to feed the media with information but has been unprepared to come here and subject herself to the cross-examination she knows she cannot withstand.”

12/13/10 Crikey. Chronology assembled by Guy Rundle

All material, unless otherwise marked, is a matter of public record. Even parts that are marked unconfirmed have multiple separate sources. Nothing that is purely directed towards the character or the history of the two female complainants has been included. Material that has been included is that which goes to questions of reliability of evidence in court proceedings. The timeline has been prepared from public sources in English and Swedish media, and from first-person interviews by Guy Rundle.

Timeline
1) In early August, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, goes to Sweden, possibly to explore basing the organisation there. Sweden has very good journalistic shield and media protection laws. Iceland had been the previous base — and a WikiLeaks holding company, Sunshine Press, is still based there. By Assange’s account, the sway of the US over Iceland’s politics made the country unsuitable for the organisation.

2) In early August, 31-year-old Anna Ardin, a political officer with the “Brotherhood”, a leftish Christian faction of the Social Democratic Party, invites Assange to speak at a “Brotherhood” function in Stockholm, which she organised. She also offers him accommodation, and Assange moves into her Stockholm apartment on August 13. The sexual encounter that will later form the basis of Ardin’s complaint takes place either that night or Saturday. (Unconfirmed: It is often reported that Assange came to Sweden at the invitation of Ardin, which may be significant if true. However, this cannot be fully verified. WikiLeaks has used Swedish servers as hosts for the site, and the possibility of basing the organisation there had been suggested previously).

3) Assange addresses the meeting on Saturday August 14. Also in attendance was 26-year-old photographer Sofia Wilen. She also attended the lunch after the event, where, reportedly, she and Assange flirted, and spent the afternoon together, seeing a movie. (Unconfirmed: Assange’s and Wilen’s sexual relationship begins at this stage) Meanwhile, Ardin sends a tweet: “Julian really wants to attend a crayfish party, anyone got two spare places”?*(*crayfish parties are a traditional summer activity in Sweden, less formal than usual, but more formal than, say, a barbecue. You can’t just turn up with extra guests. There being none going, it appears that Ardin arranges an impromptu one at her apartment.)

4) In the evening, Assange returns to the crayfish party. In attendance are several members of Sweden’s libertarian “Pirate Party”, some journalists and others. From the party Ardin tweets, “i’m with the most important, exciting people in the world”. …

8 ) On Friday August 20, Ardin and Wilen go to Klara police station in Stockholm to make inquiries about the possibility of forcing Assange to take an STI test. From the interview, the duty officer concludes that there may be grounds for charges. The on-duty prosecutor (a junior fill-in prosecutor, during the Swedish summer holidays) agrees and issues charges — one for rape/sexual assault for matters concerning Wilen, the other for “ofredande” (o-freda, unfreedom) a misdemeanour best translated as “annoyance”, applying to sexual and non-sexual crimes, in matters concerning Ardin.(Note: there is no equivalent to ofredande in English law, in terms of its reach across private and public life in Sweden. The charge applies equally to bothering someone repeatedly in the street, to the sexual conduct cited in this case. The usual translation of “molestation” is quite misleading in terms of the word’s connotations in Swedish).

9) The details of the charges are immediately leaked to Espressen, the Stockholm tabloid comparable to the Herald-Sun, in style and politics. The leaks come either from the complainants, or the police. Contacted by the paper, the duty prosecutor confirms the charges, an act which is illegal under Swedish law. The duty prosecutor is later quoted as  not being aware that it was illegal to do this.

10) Eva Finne, the chief prosecutor for the Stockholm region, hears of the charges in the news, and has the case file couriered to her holiday house. On Saturday August 21, she rescinds the rape charge, but allows the ofredande charge to stand. On the basis of the police interview with Wilen, Finne says that she does not dispute her story, but sees no description of rape within the statements.

14) About this time, two tweets are deleted from Ardin’s twitter account — one organising the crayfish party on August 14, and one from the crayfish party announcing that she is with the most exciting people in the world. The tweets are retrieved from the Google cache by a libertarian website.

15) During this week, there is a great deal of blogosphere attention to an item on Ardin’s blog, a “7-step guide to revenge on ex-lovers”. This item, posted on January 19, 2010, a translation of joke material on a US website, features a detailed list of ways to hurt ex-lovers. On September 1, in the comments string, one commenter chides her for being “obsessed with revenge”. Ardin denies the charge, going on to say: “Even though I right now have kind of a strong feeling of punching you in the face … Sometimes it is difficult to go on without some kind of payback. As a human being you should be able to understand that. In this case I was very upset with a former fiancé who betrayed me for a long time. My revenge at that point consisted in posting this translation.”…

16) On August 30, Borgstrom approached Marianne Ny, who is the head of a special unit in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, 200 kilometres from Stockholm. Ny heads a special “crime development unit” and is a specialist in the development of sex crime law. Sweden’s state system allows for different departments to act “entrepreneurially” — thus, one can apply to multiple agencies (especially in the area of ombudsmen) for similar services.

20) At some point in September, Ardin deleted from her blog the seven-step guide to revenge, which features on Ardin’s blog. This is a translation of a US joke website item, which details ways in which to get revenge on ex-lovers. This too is retrieved from the Google cache by others. No other items are deleted from Ardin’s blog…

22) In early November, Assange was given permission to leave the country by the courts. He goes to the UK to work on the Cablegate release.

25) On November 20, the Swedish courts issued an arrest warrant for Assange, to appear to answer questions from the prosecutor’s office. No charges had been laid, nor accusations specified by the office…

26) On November 28, the first of the Cablegate logs were released in major parts of the world’s press, prompting calls in the US for the assassination or arrest of Assange.

27) On November 30, Interpol issued a “red notice” on the basis of the Swedish warrant, advising that Assange was a person to be detained by police authorities across the world.

28) On December 6, a European arrest warrant was issued for Assange…

29) On December 7, as pre-arranged, Assange surrendered himself to UK police, and appeared in court on a bail hearing ahead of a battle over extradition. At this point, the Crown Prosecution Service, acting for the Swedish Prosecutors Office, read out four “charges”:

  • rape charge: that Assange had held Ardin down, forcibly parted her legs, and had sex with her
  • ofredande charge: that Assange had had unsafe sex with her, despite her earlier statement that she was most opposed to the practice, thereby violating her sexual integrity
  • ofredande charge: that Assange had pushed his erect penis into Ardin’s back, thereby violating her sexual integrity
  • sexual assault charge: that Assange had had unsafe sex with Wilen while she was sleeping

    These were first made public at Assange’s extradition bail hearing on December 7. They vary from earlier accusations, both formal and informal.

There remains confusion as to whether these are formal criminal charges, or retain the status of accusation.

No supporting evidence was produced by the UK Crown Prosecution Service, acting for the Swedish Prosecutor in this matter. The judge made specific criticisms of the prosecution for this omission.

The accusation of physical force has not been previously aired, and is contradicted by interviews that the complainant gave immediately after charges were made on August 20.

10/12/11 The Guardian. op-ed, jemima khan.

Assange has not even been charged, let alone convicted. Swedish prosecutors do not have to produce any evidence that he committed the alleged sexual offences to justify the warrant.

the evidence seems feeble, but I concede that I don’t know the full facts. Neither does Assange. Stockholm’s chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, who heard the evidence against Assange in August, threw the case out of court, saying: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

I was there because I believe that this is about censorship and intimidation. The timing of these rehashed allegations is highly suspicious, coinciding with the recent WikiLeaks revelations and reinvigorated by a rightwing Swedish politician. There are credible rumours that this is a holding charge while an indictment is being sought in secret for his arrest and extradition to the US. An accusation of rape is the ultimate gag. Until proved otherwise, Assange has done nothing illegal, yet he is behind bars.

12/08/10 MSNBC

Assange’s lawyers have claimed the accusations stem from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex” and say the women only made the claims after finding out about each other’s relationships with Assange….

Aug. 11: Assange arrives in Stockholm, where he is to be the key speaker at a seminar organized by a group called the Brotherhood Movement.

London’s Daily Mail reports his point of contact is a radical feminist who once held a university post of “campus sexual equity officer.” The two had never met but earlier agreed that Assange would stay at her apartment, the Mail stated. She planned to be out of town until the day of the seminar.

Aug. 14: The woman, identified by Swedish officials only as Miss A, returns to Stockholm, 24 hours earlier than planned. The two go out for dinner, return to the apartment and have sex during which a condom breaks. She would later tell police that Assange used his body weight to hold her down during sex and that she was a victim of “unlawful coercion.”

Aug. 15: Assange delivers his seminar speech and meets another woman who tags along for lunch with friends, the Mail reported, adding that the two then go to a movie where the woman suggests they were “intimate.”

That evening, Miss A hosts a party for Assange at her home, afterward reportedly tweeting this to friends: “Sitting outside … nearly freezing,  with the world’s coolest people. It’s pretty amazing!”

Aug. 16: The second woman, identified only as Miss W by Swedish officials, calls Assange and they meet in Stockholm. They go by train to her hometown and to her apartment, where they have sex. According to her testimony to police, Assange wore a condom.

Aug. 17: Miss W later tells police that Assange that morning had unprotected sex with her while she was still asleep

Soon after, Miss W contacts Miss A, knowing her from the seminar, and confides that she had unprotected sex with Assange, the Mail reported. Miss A says that she, too, had slept with him…

Aug. 20: Assange leaves the apartment. The two women go to Stockholm police to seek advice on how to proceed with a complaint by Miss W against Assange, the Mail reported.

According to one source, Miss W wanted to know if it was possible to force Assange to undergo an HIV test. Miss A said she was there merely to support Miss W, but she also gives police an account of what had happened between herself and Assange, the Mail reported.

The female interviewing officer concludes that Miss W had been raped and Miss A subject to sexual molestation. A duty prosecuting attorney agrees Assange should be sought on suspicion of rape.

Aug. 21: The chief prosecutor dismisses the rape charge and arrest warrant, saying what occurred were no more than minor offenses.

In the following days, the claimants appeal, and a special prosecutor reopens the case, eventually reissuing the arrest warrant.

08/21/10 The Guardian

Swedish prosecutors have withdrawn an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying the rape suspicions against him are unfounded.

In a brief statement, chief prosecutor Eva Finne said: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

The accusation had been labelled a dirty trick by Mr Assange and his backers, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified US documents from the Afghan war.

Swedish prosecutors had urged Mr Assange – a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear – to turn himself in to police to face questioning in one case involving suspicions of rape and another based on an accusation of molestation.

“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.
**
Last month Wikileaks released around 77,000 secret US military documents on the war in Afghanistan…

Assange has said that Wikileaks intends to release a further 15,000 documents in the coming weeks – a pledge condemned by the Pentagon, which has demanded the deletion of the files from the website.

08/12/10 BBC News

The Swedish Prosecution Authority website said the chief prosecutor had come to the decision that Mr Assange was not suspected of rape…
…the warrant was cancelled…
The Swedish Prosecution Authority website said chief prosecutor Eva Finne had come to the decision that Julian Assange was not subject to arrest.
In a brief statement Eva Finne said: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” …
On Saturday she said the police investigation into the molestation charge continued.
Ms Rosander said: “The [chief prosecutor] will look into that later. She hasn’t been able to do that, but that’s not enough for being arrested. It’s not a serious enough crime.”

 

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