2013-07-08 UK news site censors discussion of Sofia Wilén

Someone's panicking. Late on Saturday 6 July 2013, the Independent published an article by Archie Bland: "In depth: Julian Assange and Edward Snowden - enemies of the state take flight" about the legal and physical limbo both find themselves in as a result of their whistleblowing and publishing activities. Disqus comments were open underneath the article and throughout the day on Sunday readers engaged in a lively discussion.

As is usual with any article mentioning Julian Assange, in amongst that discussion was much back-and-forth on the merits of the Swedish investigation into allegations made against him in August 2010 - including, significantly, the lab results from Sweden's National Laboratory of Forensic Science, or Statens kriminaltekniska laboratorium (SKL), newly published for the first time in English at the Assange in Sweden website: Assange in Sweden: The Lab Results.

And then, around 7.30pm Sunday and 220-plus comments in, the entire comments section suddenly vanished. Not just a few rogue or offensive comments here and there, but the entire Disqus interface had been removed, leaving a gaping expanse of white space beneath the article. Clearly, something had got the lawyers at the Independent spooked, but what was it?

One reader figured out it might have something to do with that lab report, which the original poster had re-posted no less than three times in the comments thread in an effort to keep it in view. Suspecting that such blatant censorship may have been forced by the fact that deleting the individual comments discussing the implications of the forensics report would look too obvious - there were too many of those - and that the Independent might have received a formal take-down notice, they quickly copied it to an unrelated article about Snowden and Assange in another news outlet.

Guess what? The Independent newspaper today had an article about the plight of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. They had a lively Disqus comments discussion going - 200+ posts - which has suddenly been REMOVED in its entirety. Gone, completely! I suspect this removal has something to do with the fact what was being discussed was this below:

You may be interested in reading this - the forensic lab results from the Swedish investigation of allegations against Assange, translated into English for the first time:

assangeinswedenbook[dot]com/2013/07/01/the-lab-results/ - (replace that [dot] with a . first)

Pay special attention to the very last paragraph, and then *think* very hard about how this ties in with the formal witness statements from both women - who accused Assange of doing what exactly, and when. The names given in square brackets here ARE correct. Now, what does this story of two women turning up at a police station together and a warrant being issued for "double rape" BEFORE either had sat down to give an "official" statement look like to you?

For the avoidance of doubt, I'll spell it out. What this lab report shows is that one of the women has told two different stories - of not seeing, but hearing, a condom being damaged ("a sound like pulling on a balloon... the room was dark at the time") vs later saying it was all about a penetration attempt without a condom when she was not fully awake after breakfast and after returning to bed, having sex one more time with a condom half-on then dozing off a bit (and not mentioning in her "official" statement - or to any of her friends in THEIR statements to police - anything AT ALL about the incident of the damaged condom in the night, but still producing a fragment with Assange's DNA on it to be sent to the lab); and the other woman has produced a "deliberately torn during sex" "used" condom with no DNA - not male, not female either - on it.

I encourage everyone to read this source document - it shows BOTH women handed in "torn" "used" condom evidence - one with no DNA at all on it; one, a fragment of condom with a man's DNA on it (which matched that taken from the woman) along with a story about hearing, not seeing, a condom being "damaged" in the dark of night. Mysteriously, there is nothing WHATSOEVER about this in her formal statement or in that of any of her friends who gave statements to the police - and draw your own conclusions.

And what conclusions can be drawn from the fact that the Swedish prosecutor had this lab report weeks before she wrote out an extradition request for Assange? What conclusions can be drawn from the fact that the UK High Court judges also saw this lab report, but mentioned nothing about its most disturbing findings in their judgment turning down Assange's appeal against extradition?

Next, the hunt was on to find out where such a take-down notice - if indeed that was the cause of the removal - could have come from. It seemed unlikely that the readers' conversation would have fallen foul of the UK's laws against the public naming of alleged rape victims. The names Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén had not been mentioned a single time in the entire discussion, so notorious are they now that "the women" is all that's needed to let everyone know who they're talking about. And the link to the Assange in Sweden: The Lab Results article - which did include the women's names - wasn't of the click-through variety. The Independent has its Disqus set up to pre-moderate any comment containing a url, so readers would have to copy the given url to a browser address bar and restore it to its original format before they could access the offending site. Was that sufficient to have the Independent cave in to legal threats? It hardly seemed probable.

Nor could the material properly be deemed sub judice. As we've been told on umpteen occasions, Assange "has exhausted all legal recourse in the UK", his extradition appeal having already been through the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. So, no possibility of being sub judice there then. From a UK perspective, Assange is only wanted for questioning in a preliminary investigation in its early stages in a foreign jurisdiction. The case is so weak most Swedish jurists who've reviewed the case material say it could never actually reach the courts; it simply isn't strong enough. And Assange is now a political refugee living in Ecuador (strictly speaking). All told then, it looks like there is never going to be a trial. Aside from all that, since when could publication in the UK be counted as sub judice on the faint possibility of a trial in the courts of another nation? Wouldn't that be a sign that sovereignty has broken down entirely within Europe as a result of the shadow from across the Atlantic? Perhaps we're not quite there yet.

The Independent claims to operate a fairly relaxed post-moderation policy, though it mutters darkly "There are also other methods, by the way, with which we shall excise the idiocy of the spammers", and its UGC (User Generated Content) policy specifies it will summarily remove legally troublesome comments, although it doesn't say whether it will take the initiative to pre-emptively do so or whether it would wait for a lawyer's letter to arrive.

Perhaps most intriguing in all this is the belief amongst some Flashback investigators that there was direct coordination between the UK newspaper and Swedish lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz over her 23 May 2013 press release on behalf of her new client, Sofia Wilén. There were in fact two press releases: one, understandably holding back a little, aimed for Swedish domestic consumption, followed by a no-holds-barred version for the international market. Except that Flashback had noticed from the documents' metadata that the dates had been switched, and that it was, in reality, Ms Fritz' (or her office junior's or an outside journalist's, who knows?) more outré declamation that had been penned first. Had Massi Fritz' PR campaign been intended to target an international audience all along?

Other clues seemed to bear this out. Certain embarrassing gaffes had been trimmed from the second (now first) version: a reference that the preliminary investigation should be carried out "promptly and in a customary way according to our Swedish judicial system" - laughable in the face of Marianne Ny's refusal to do anything (or say a word about it) since 2010 - was still there in the Independent's version of the presser, although the article was published the day after the toning-down. Not so its other rather more revealing gaffe - that "My client has the right to her day in court for the rape she's reported to the police", which didn't chime too well with the story put about by Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén that they only went to the police to ask for advice about HIV testing.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz is Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's "family" lawyer, let's not forget, so had this international PR effort received official sanction or support? Was Sofia Wilén's demand via her lawyer that Sweden pressure a sovereign nation to bring about her 'right' to her day in court really a government-led attempt to do the same, disguised as the pleadings of someone "left with deep scars" by the "violation" she'd suffered? Who does Sofia Wilén speak for? Maybe just Sofia Wilén, but she does seem to be remarkably well-connected to be able to speak so loudly.

When news first broke in March 2013 that one of Julian Assange's accusers had made an urgent application to the court for permission to change her counsel, everyone had assumed the complainant in question was Anna Ardin. The reason given was that Claes Borgström spent too much time speaking to the media, although a more plausible one might be the need to get rid of a lawyer whose reputation lay in tatters post-Thomas Quick's acquittal on all eight murder convictions his defence counsel (Borgström) had helped facilitate. Claes Borgström, for his part, seemed quite relaxed - relieved, even - at the sacking, and countered that his client had actually badgered him to do much of the media blitz. Naturally, everyone assumed Ardin.

It wasn't until Claes Borgström submitted his final bill for his services on behalf of this client - a paltry $17,406 of taxpayers' money - that everyone realised that the 'Complainant A' he was talking about was Sofia Wilén. That's not all they realised. According to Claes Borgström's invoice, Sofia Wilén had been re-interviewed by police - "interrogated" in Borgström's words - seven times following her initial (unsigned) statement to Irmeli Krans on 20 August 2010, including the day after police received the above forensics report back from the lab. Moreover, the very next day Mats Gehlin decided to get a statement from the last of Sofia Wilén's witness friends, Marie Thorn (Witness 'I' in the police protocol). It seems he particularly wanted to talk about the various SMS texts and phone calls between Sofia and her friend where matters pertaining to Wilén's motives were "jokingly" discussed - going to the newspapers, being contacted by a US newspaper, and making lots of money. All jokes, you understand, to support a friend through her distress - and all made in the best possible taste. But one SMS stood out, apparently - at least it did for Mats Gehlin after he'd reviewed the findings of the forensics report:

The chief interrogator asked about the SMS message when [Witness I] wrote that they have to figure out a good plan of revenge.

Which brings us back to the mysterious removal of the Disqus comments section, with its extensive discussion of the Swedish forensics report, from the Independent last Sunday, and who might be responsible. Elisabeth Massi Fritz' work ethic is unlikely to extend to working on a Sunday, but Wilén herself is known by Flashback to maintain an obsessive vigilance about online references to herself, quickly acting to ensure anything she doesn't like gets taken down. Especially stuff as revealing as the Independent readers' comments, many of which spelt out in no uncertain terms exactly what the forensics report showed Sofia Wilén had done on that fateful day in August 2010. What's surprising to Flashback, however, isn't the speed with which material on Sofia Wilén gets removed from the Internet, it's the extent of the tight control she seems to enjoy over information about her.

What does censorship signal?