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The Rest

Dec 8, 2010

Rundle: ringside for Assange's court appearance, in all its gory detail

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is in custody in the UK tonight, after failing to win bail on a European arrest warrant issued to extradite him to Sweden.

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WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is in custody in the UK tonight, after failing to win bail on a European arrest warrant issued to extradite him to Sweden.

Assange went voluntarily to a London police station on Tuesday morning, having been in contact with UK police over the past several weeks. His barrister John Jones told the court that Assange would agree to a range of conditions including daily reporting and electronic tagging, if granted bail, and sureties were offered by six high-profile people including journalist John Pilger, director Ken Loach, and Jemima Khan.

However, the judge ruled that the combination of the seriousness of the charges, Assange’s nomadic lifestyle, and the fact that his UK residency (which is merely the six-month visa free entry granted to any Australian) might expire before the service of the warrant had been concluded.

However he intimated that the prosecution had been remiss in its failure to bring forth any of the evidence supporting the charges in the Swedish warrant, on which the warrant is based.

A first hearing on the substance of the European arrest warrant has been scheduled for December 14.

wikieaks1

A double page spread in yesterday’s Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s highest circulation morning newspaper

Swedish charges made

The European arrest warrant was served on the basis of a Swedish warrant, which is now for prosecution, rather than merely as part of an investigation. There are four charges, combining allegations of r-pe, s-xual assault and “ofredande”, the distinctive Swedish charge of misconduct/annoyance.

Three charges are based on the allegations of “complainant A”, in whose apartment Assange was staying in mid-August. The first is one of r-pe — that Assange used his body weight to lie on her, pushed her legs open and forced s-x.

The second charge is that Assange “assaulted her s-xual integrity” by “having s-x without a condom despite complainant’s earlier expressed unwillingness to do so”. Another s-xual integrity assault is that Assange “pushed his erect p-nis into her back without permission, while sharing a bed”. The fourth charge is by the second complainant, “complainant W” which alleges “having s-x with the complainant while she was asleep, without a condom”.

Outside court, Assange’s solicitor Mark Stephens sounded a feisty note, telling 150 or so of the world’s journalists that “this is going to go viral … Many people believe Mr Assange to be innocent, myself included. Many people believe that this prosecution is politically motivated”. Pilger gave a rolling presser lasting about half an hour as TV crews followed him around, assailing the Swedish charges as “absurd” and suggesting that r-pe charges had been reinstated for political reasons.

The decision to remand Assange was greeted with little surprise by many — the Serious Crime detectives lingering in the court foyer dismissed any suggestions of a line-ball call, saying that “there was never any doubt” that bail would be denied, due to the possibility of absconding. However, Jennifer Robinson, part of Assange’s legal team, told an author covering the event that she was “shocked” at the result.

Assange’s legal team immediately announced that it may appeal the bail decision, and will certainly fight the extradition charge, possibly all the way to the British High Court. The case will certainly prove a test of the discretion that national courts have over the serving of a European arrest warrant.

WikiLeaks has confirmed that it will keep running, and will return to the business of cable release almost immediately.

The reading of the Swedish charges against Assange has been the first full airing of accusations that have been surrounded by rumour since they were first made in mid-August. Crikey readers got the full story a lot earlier than most, but even your correspondent decided to minimise the more explicit details because of simply, well, yurrrgghhh.

For better or worse, better and worse, Swedish s-x crime law has taken on the values and attitudes of Macquarie University c.1989, in which myriad acts between bodies are constructed as a series of legal permissions. That separates Sweden from the mass of other countries as behaviour that other cultures would see as private exchange becomes public law.

Even taking that into account, the situation has entered bizarre territory. Can anyone really say that the resources of two states and an international police force should be directed to investigating the provenance of a wayward morning glory?

A case to answer?

This charge, number three, is obviously farcical to 90% of the planet, male and female. What about the other charges? Charge two, unsafe s-x, does not allege non-consent. It alleges earlier notice of an unwillingness to engage in unsafe s-x, quite a different thing — and presumably the reason why it is being charged as an offence against “s-xual integrity”.

S-x while sleeping? What? Through the whole thing? Either this bends the truth, or Assange went to a Steiner school. How on earth do Swedish prosecutors propose to establish this to a standard of proof? That question is further complicated by documents suggesting collusion and false reports, and a blog by one of the complainants including a how to guide to “revenge on lovers”, which includes a section on “lying to get the law involved”.

That leaves the first charge, a charge of explicit and deliberate r-pe. It would be wise here to remember what is being objected to by Assange’s supporters — not the charge itself but the chaotic process by which it has been brought. Not everyone is observing this line. Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, has been on the media arguing that his client “isn’t the sort of person who could do these things”. Well, that’s no real argument. John Pilger has charged in foursquare, rejecting the r-pe arguments as “crap” and politically motivated — and also mangling the whole sequence in the telling, telling the world’s media that the “chief prosecutor” threw out an earlier r-pe charge, and that this was then reinstated by political pressure.

That’s completely arse backwards and fails to understand what is going on here. The initial charge was made by a junior duty prosecutor on a summer Friday in Stockholm, based on the “inquiries” by the two complainants to the police. This was rescinded a day later by the regular prosecutor, Eva Finne, who was so concerned by the events (which had been placed in Expressen newspaper by the police) that she had the documents couriered to her summer cottage, and promptly rescinded the order.

The next week, the two complainants hired as their lawyer Claes Bergstrom — former minister in the Social Democratic Party, big wheel. Whether they sought him out, or he volunteered remains to be seen, but he managed to convince Marianne Ny to take the case.

Ny is not the chief prosecutor either — she runs (or ran, until recently) a “crime development unit” out of Gothenburg, two hundred clicks from Stockholm. The unit lives effectively, by finding new types of crime — and especially s-x crime, which is Ny’s field. Like much of the Swedish state it has to be entrepreneurial within the framework of public funding, to maintain its existence.

Crayfishgate, and the crisis of feminism

This is crucial to understand, because simple stories of political interference won’t cut it — though they play a part. The core process that has Assange in trouble is the autonomous process of a (once) socialist, feminist state. This has been difficult for many people to interpret, because it is so rare. Sweden (and maybe one or two other Nordic countries) is the only state where feminism has achieved state power, actually won the long march through the institutions. As such it is now exposed to the full contradictions of that role, including running wars, armies and police forces.

This effectively brings to the surface contradictions inherent right at the start of second-wave feminism in the early ’70s — between the idea that existing power structures could be taken over (which ultimately became liberal feminism) and arguments that the very character of power — and the state — had to be transformed.

Imperial feminism?

One of the truly bizarre things about this event is that Assange has made history even when he didn’t intend to — this moment is when the contradictions of second wave feminism are played out to endgame, because feminists will have to choose which side they cleave to — a state prosecuting possible s-x crimes (whose possibility I do not deny), laced into a global power structure, or a radical force holding states to account, and unleashing new forms of social energy and flow that challenge inherited patriarchal structures?

We’ve seen this before of course — in the period of imperial feminism of the mid 2000s, when numerous liberal feminist commentators took the next step, and committed themselves to imperial wars that they hoped would advance the cause of gender liberation in patriarchal societies.

In Sweden this is given institutional form, because a feminist state is laced into a military one — Sweden’s once-prized neutrality has long been forfeited to a de facto NATO alliance. Central to this is the Nordic battle group, the naval force run as a joint NATO/Swedish exercise, and a key part of the new more aggressive forward strategy of NATO in relation to Russia — as recently revealed by WikiLeaks. This is part and parcel of a gradual surrender of neutrality to US dominance — as recently revealed by WikiLeaks.

This circle closes with news tonight that Swedish and American authorities are already in discussion about co-operation to begin extradition proceedings against Assange once he is in Sweden. It comes as WikiLeaks releases a new series of cables that show that Scotland was effectively bribed by Libya to release Al-Megrahi, the man convicted (possibly wrongly) of the Lockerbie bombing.

In other words, the hits just keep on coming. And it is faintly possible that Assange decided, once s-x crime allegations were made against him, that his project would best be served by a series of trials that convulsed the world.

Who knows? Maybe it’s all in the archive somewhere …

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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21 comments

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21 thoughts on “Rundle: ringside for Assange’s court appearance, in all its gory detail

  1. Mort

    I think pandagon addresses this issue very well.

    http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/cmon_we_can_do_this_acting_like_grown_ups_thing

    “Interpol is using a rape accusation that resembles this one to put Julian Assange on their most-wanted list. As Lindsay points out, this is just silly. Sex crimes are never actually taken this seriously—we feminists wish!—and I’m annoyed to see rape used in this way, considering that rape apologists are already eager to suggest that rape accusations are about some evil bitch with ulterior motives.”

    But

    “We can be grown-ups here. We can entertain the idea that Wikileaks is performing a valuable service while acknowledging the strong possibility that Julian Assange is himself an asshole who treats women like they’re objects”

  2. Greg Angelo

    As is becoming abundantly clear, one’s suspicions about lies and misrepresentation peddled by politicians worldwide are now been confirmed by of the Wikileaks publication of secret documents. Unfortunately, Julian Assange has to paraphrase a well-known book title, “kicked the hornet’s nest”.

    Elements of that bastion of freedom and democracy and free speech, America, have been calling for Julian’s assassination. Our own Prime Minister is little better.

    Does Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s expressed contempt for Julian Assange’s “grossly irresponsible” actions extend to the editors of newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the UK Daily Telegraph, The Australian, and The Age to nominate some of the well-known media outlets that have published the leaked cables.

    What would her attitude be if a Chinese dissident leaked 250,000 diplomatic cables from China underscoring the duplicity of the Chinese government. Would she be sucking up to China by claiming that this was “grossly irresponsible”? Would the American rednecks be calling for this hypothetical Chinese dissident to be murdered?

    Whether one likes it or not, what is being challenged hereis the the freedom of the press, and lapdogs like Gillard are cosying up to the likes of Sarah Palin in the US, rather than defending the right to free speech, however unpleasant that freedom might be. It is becoming abundantly clear that due process in in Sweden has been manipulated for political reasons probably under pressure from the US.

    I for one find it refreshing to hear the truth about the lies and misrepresentation peddled by politicians of all persuasions. This includes candid evaluations of ex-prime minister Rudd bringing Australia into disrepute in the eyes of its strongest ally the United States.

    Whilst I understand the grief that US authorities may have in relation to their candid assessments being made public, the Wikileaks disclosures have provided a valuable resource with which to test and evaluate the duplicity of the political process. Our troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan while corrupt Afghan officials are stealing billions of dollars of aid, with the full knowledge of their American supporters as identified by Wikileaks publications. Whilst the press have generally surmised this situation, the Wikileaks cables prove it. We must defend the right to free speech and freedom of information.

  3. Jenny

    So, Mr Rundle, if Sweden is such a feminist utopia, how is it that Amnesty International highlighted it as one of the worst countries for rape victims to get justice?

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/rape-victims-worldwide-denied-justice-and-dignity-2010-03-08

    Even if we assume that the case has been prioritised and the extradition and denial of bail have more to do with wikileaks than with sexual assault – that does not mean that he did not commit crimes against these women. How about we stop the trial by media, let the courts do their job and refrain from attacking and ridiculing these women when none of us were there and don’t know what really happened.

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