2010-12-09 Sweden case updates

Jennifer Robinson, one of Julian Assange's lawyers, was interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now!. Regarding the charges, she clarified that "the first thing to note is that no formal charges have yet been brought" and that the warrant is "in relation to the allegations, not formal charges, and is for the purposes of having him give his interview and answers to the questions of the prosecutor."

She reiterated that Julian Assange had cooperated with the investigation throughout, and that there was absolutely no need for an arrest warrant to be issued for an interview. He had remained in Sweden for more than a month and a half to answer the allegations and police questions, and he left the country with the prosecutor's permission. She added: "Since leaving the country, he has been in touch with her. And indeed, the judge noted yesterday that I had written to the police to notify them here in Britain that we were aware that an arrest warrant may be communicated and that we were willing to cooperate. The judge noted that this was a very positive sign. Julian has, at all stages, cooperated. We have volunteered cooperation to the prosecutor."

Julian Assange and his legal team have not been presented yet with any of the evidence of the allegations against him, she noted, despite the fact that this contravenes the European Convention. "The first document we have received in English, which is her obligation under that convention, with respect to Mr. Assange, was Monday, when we received the arrest warrant, and there was a very short notation of the offenses and the basic facts underlying those offenses. So, as to any earlier correspondence between the complainants and Julian and their motivation for going to the police, we only know what we’ve been able to read in the press, which is a highly unsatisfactory position to be in."

Robinson pointed out that the evidence has been requested, but the prosecution failed to present it, which was also noted by the presiding judge yesterday: "the judge showed great concern for the apparent lack of evidence provided, and indeed he even referred to the weakness of the evidence that underlies this arrest warrant and specifically directed the prosecutor to instruct him on that evidence. So, we are very keen to get to the bottom of this. And we note, too, that demands to the Swedish prosecutor for evidence have been denied. She is out of time on a demand that we put for all of the evidence in this matter, including text messages between the two women after the alleged incidents and before they went to the police. These are critical matters that we need to get to the bottom of, and we are reviewing those and pressing those requests to the prosecutor at present."

You can watch the full interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Mark Stephens was separately interviewed by The Voice of Russia. He mentioned that the next court hearing will be on December 14, but he was not permitted a legal visit until December 13. He explained that the December 14 hearing is not the extradition hearing, but "it’ll be the hearing when the issues are identified and then once they are identified we’ll have an idea of how long the hearing will take place and the date will be scheduled, probably the end of January or the beginning of February."

He also referred to the fact that no evidence has been presented by the prosecutor ("perhaps one would even say ‘persecutor’"), who has been "playing hide-and-seek" since August. He explained that the case had been dropped by the Chief Prosecutor, only to be reinstated after "a politician got involved and he took these women out of Stockholm to Gothenburg and on the same facts started another prosecution with another prosecutor. I know that in most countries that would be an abuse of process. It appears though that in Sweden this is what the Prosecutor is doing."

Stephens also expounded on the various attacks on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, such as "organizations like MasterCard and Visa have shut down their access although it is worth pointing out that these organizations are quite happy to take money from pornographers and racist organizations like the Ku-Klux-Klan and a legal organization like Wikileaks doesn’t seem to be able to garner their attention." He mentioned that it was "really quite unusual" for PostFinance to close Julian Assange's account, and that despite the vaunted Swiss bank secrecy, "for some reason on this occasion they not only froze his account but they also made it public."

"And again you to look and ask yourself why is it that all these things are happening in the week that cables are going ahead. One can therefore conclude that the proceedings are politically motivated," he continued.

You can read the full interview here.

Guy Rundle reports in Crikey that Anna Ardin, one of the complainants, has left Sweden and "may have ceased actively co-operating with the Swedish prosecution service and her own lawyer, sources in Sweden told Crikey today."

He also notes that "One source from Ardin’s old university of Uppsala reported rumours that she had stopped co-operating with the prosecution service several weeks ago, and that this was part of the reason for the long delay in proceeding with charges — and what still appears to be an absence of charges."

Crikey asked Flinders University sex crime law expert Dr Mary Heath to go over the charges, as they were presented at the hearing, and concluded that "Even if the case comes to trial, the prospects of conviction look slim." The lack of evidence and the fact that the Swedish prosecutor has not officially pressed charges "has added to speculation that the Swedish moves, which have coincided with the release of the Cablegate stories, are politically motivated as stalling tactics, allowing Assange to be detained while the US “prepares an extradition/rendition request”, according to Assange’s UK lawyer Mark Stephens."

Informal extradition talks between the US and Sweden had been reported yesterday by The Independent, although Sweden Foreign Minister had denied the report to AFP.

The Guardian spoke with Raj Joshi, an extradition specialist and former head of the European and International Division at the Crown Prosecution Service. He said: "On what we know so far, it is going to be very difficult to extradite. The judge has to be satisfied that the conduct equals an extraditable offence and that there are no legal bars to extradition. Assange's team will argue, how can the conduct equal an extraditable offence if the [Swedish] prosecutor doesn't think there is enough evidence to charge, and still has not charged." Joshi said other bars to extradition would be Assange's rights under the European human rights legislation.

Katrin Axellson of Women Against Rape wrote in a letter to The Guardian that "Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued" for these allegations, considering among others that bail is routinely granted for people officially charged, and his request was denied despite there being no chages pressed. She added that "There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety."

In the meantime, the global WikiLeaks supporter community is quickly mobilizing to protest Julian Assange's arrest, and to affirm support for WikiLeaks in the face of mounting political pressure and threats. Our current list of events comprises no less than 22 rallies in eight countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Canada and Portugal.

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