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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange: Pentagon could be behind rape claim

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has speculated that the Pentagon could be behind a rape accusation that prompted Swedish prosecutors to issue a warrant for his arrest which was later withdrawn.

Assange: Pentagon could be behind rape claim

The country’s prosecution service meanwhile justified the chaotic situation when authorities first issued an arrest warrant for the Australian whistleblower late on Friday night but then withdrew it the following day.

The Aftonbladet newspaper quoted Assange, 39, as saying he did not know who was “hiding behind” the claims, which came amid a stand-off with Washington over the website’s publication of secret Afghan war documents.

Assange said he was shocked by the allegations against him and that he had never had sexual relations with anybody in a way that was not consensual, the tabloid said.

But he said that he had been warned previously that groups such as the Pentagon “could use dirty tricks” to destroy Wikileaks — adding that he had been particularly warned against being entrapped by sexual scandals.

Assange told Aftonbladet that despite the lifting of the warrant, his enemies would still use the claims to damage Wikileaks, which is set to publish thousands more secret papers about the war in Afghanistan in coming weeks.

He refused to give more details about the two women whose claims sparked the furore, saying that it would impinge on their privacy.

Prosecutors said Saturday that Assange was now “not suspected of rape” and was no longer wanted for questioning on the charge, but added that an investigation into a separate molestation charge remained open.

Assange, Wikileaks website and his aides have strongly denied all the claims.

He had been in Sweden earlier this month giving a press conference on the upcoming release of the last batch of Afghanistan documents, but he generally remains on the move around the world staying with supporters.

The Swedish prosecutor’s office issued a statement on Sunday defending its actions.

It said that chief prosecutor Eva Finne, who was responsible for withdrawing the arrest warrant, had “more information available to decide on Saturday than the duty prosecutor on Friday evening.”

“A decision regarding restrictive measures, such as this, must always be reevaluated in a preliminary inquiry,” the statement added.

The spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, Karin Rosander, told AFP late Saturday that the procedure followed was normal and would have been launched automatically by the duty prosecutor in serious cases such as rape.

In an interview in the Expressen newspaper, which broke the story, duty prosecutor Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand said that she “did not regret her decision”.

The two women who originally made the claims did not make an official complaint and it was the police who took the decision to inform the prosecutors office, she said.

“I received a report from the police which seemed to me to be sufficient to arrest him. On Friday evening I got a call from the police describing what the women said. The information I received was convincing enough for me to take my decision,” Häljebo Kjellstrand was quoted as saying.

WikiLeaks has already released nearly 77,000 secret papers about the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, sparking charges that it had endangered the lives of informants and others named therein.

The website says it had repeatedly asked the Pentagon for help analysing the remaining documents, and Assange has said he wants to avoid publishing the “names of innocent parties that are under reasonable threat”.

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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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