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JULIAN ASSANGE

JULIAN ASSANGE

Sweden wants Assange DNA sample from interrogation

Julian Assange will be questioned in person next week over longstanding rape accusations, Sweden's public prosecutor's office announced on Monday, saying an Ecuadorian prosecutor would visit the WikiLeaks founder in the embassy where he has been holed up since 2012.

Sweden wants Assange DNA sample from interrogation
Julian Assange pictured in October 2016. Photo: Markus Schreiber/Ap

“Ecuador has granted the Swedish request for legal assistance in criminal matters and the hearing will be conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor,” the public prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Through his lawyer Assange welcomed the news saying he was looking forward to the “chance to clear his name”.

“We have requested this interview repeatedly since 2010,” his lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP.

“Julian Assange has always wanted to tell his version to the Swedish police. He wants a chance to clear his name,” he said.

“We hope the investigation will be closed then.”

The lawyer added the “shape of the questioning is under discussion.”

The Swedish deputy public prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and a Swedish police inspector will also be present at the questioning on November 14.

“A DNA sample will also be taken, provided that Julian Assange agrees to it,” the public prosecutor's office statement explained.

A first hearing scheduled for October with the prosecutor Toainga Wilson had been postponed at Assange's request, citing “his rights to the protection and defence of his person,” according to Ecuadorian prosecutors.

The 45-year-old Australian sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in June 2012, fleeing allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden dating back to 2010.

He had refused to travel to Sweden for questioning due to concerns that he would then be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Swedish prosecutors dropped a sexual assault probe against Assange last year after its five-year statute of limitations expired, but they still want to interrogate him about a 2010 rape allegation, which carries a ten-year statute of limitations.

Assange insists the sexual encounters in question were consensual.

Last month, the Swedish prosecutor's office rejected Assange's request to temporarily suspend his arrest warrant so he could leave the Ecuadorian embassy to attend the funeral of mentor Gavin MacFayden.

WikiLeaks has meanwhile returned to the spotlight in recent weeks with the damaging leak of tens of thousands of emails from the US Democratic Party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign.

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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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