Sources in Sweden have told Crikey that Anna Ardin, one of the two complainants in the rape and sexual assault case against WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, has left Sweden, and may have ceased actively co-operating with the Swedish prosecution service and her own lawyer.
The move comes amid a growing campaign by leading Western feminists to question the investigation, and renewed confusion as to whether Sweden has actually issued charges against Assange. Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf, and the European group Women Against Rape, have all made statements questioning the nature and purpose of the prosecution.
Crikey has been told that Ardin, who also goes by the name Bernardin, has moved to the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories, as part of a Christian outreach group, aimed at bringing reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. She has moved to the small town of Yanoun, which sits close to Israel’s security/sequestration wall. Yanoun is constantly besieged by fundamentalist Jewish settlers, and international groups have frequently stationed themselves there.
Attempts by Crikey to contact Ardin by phone, fax, email and twitter were unsuccessful today.
Ardin’s blog has restarted after a fortnight hiatus, and her twitter feed has restarted after a two-month break. The twitter feed appears to be commenting on her ongoing profile in the media with the latest entry reading: “CIA agent, rabid feminist / Muslim lover, a Christian fundamentalist, frigid & fatally in love with a man, can you be all that at the same time …”
The previous tweet appears to extend support to WikiLeaks, after financial agencies withdrew their services, reading “Mastercard, Visa and Paypal — hit it, now!”*
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.
News of Ardin/Bernardin’s departure comes as reports circulate of Ardin’s connection to the right-wing Cuban exile community in Miami, something that Crikey readers learnt of months ago. The reports have helped fuel wilder conspiracy theories about the nature of Ardin’s involvement with WikiLeaks and Assange.
A former politics student who had done internships at Sweden’s DC embassy, Ardin completed her thesis on Cuban political opposition groups, many of whom have involvement — and funding — from the US interests section, the only US diplomatic representation in Cuba. Ardin initially began her research in Havana and left after being advised that her position was no longer safe. She completed the research in Miami.
However, it seems more likely that the Cuban episode is part of the same political nomadism that led her to WikiLeaks. An office holder with the Social Democratic party’s Christian “brotherhood” faction, Ardin is active in a range of causes from Latin America to animal liberation.
Ardin’s move and confusion over her involvement and the real status of the charges against Assange come as the campaign questioning the charges against him has come to include a number of leading feminist activists. Naomi Klein tweeted that:
“Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks”
In The GuardianKarin Axelsson of Women Against R-pe questioned why Assange’s case was being pursued more assiduously than cases of rape judged more serious (Sweden has three degrees of severity for rape charges).
These moves are evidence of the situation your correspondent suggested in Crikey yesterday — that the Assange case is proving to be the final process by which the second-wave feminist coalition formed in the late 1960s splits substantially, with feminists with differing attitude to Western state power finding themselves on different sides of the debate.
Indeed, it puts one in the unusual position of saying that commentators such as Wolf are being too anti-complainant in their construction of the charges as nothing other than a couple of bad dates. It’s a strange world, and getting stranger.
The lawyer for Ardin and Wilen, the two complainants, has hit back at attacks and criticism of his clients, saying that they had been put on trial and effectively assaulted twice. He claimed to be in daily contact with the women, which suggests that he has a better reception to Yanoun than many of its inhabitants have to the outside world.
Even if the case comes to trial, the prospects of conviction look slim. Crikey asked Flinders University sex crime law expert Dr Mary Heath to go over the charges (which may still be accusations at this stage) as they were relayed in Assange’s extradition bail hearing, and she made the following comments:
“Practically speaking, I would not like the chances of the prosecutor on charge 3 — pressing his erect penis into the complainant’s back … legally speaking I would have to suggest the chances of conviction would be slim for any Australian offence where both accused were adults. Proving non consent might be difficult but proving awareness of non consent would be even harder.
“Charges 1 and 2 (holding partner down, and unsafe sex despite earlier expressed opposition to such) involve contexts where there would be room for defence argument about consent. On charge 1, when is one person ‘holding down’ another person lying beneath them, and when are they simply having consensual sex in a position involving one person being on top of the other person? Is this force or just rough but consensual (compared to cases I’ve read, the allegation would hardly count as rough).
“On charge 2, prior unwillingness is not enough, the complainant must not be consenting and the accused must be aware of this ‘at the time of intercourse’. Did complainant one change her mind? Did Assange believe she changed her mind, and perhaps on reasonable grounds the charge does not disclose?
“On charge 4 (sex while complainant was sleeping), recent experience in South Australia suggests this also could be difficult to prove if there was any kind of sexual interaction prior to the complainant falling asleep, which might give the defence a plausible argument that belief in consent was present. I was deeply unimpressed by the level of protection the courts (let alone public attitudes) offered to people who are asleep or unconscious due to drugs/alcohol.
“… The one thing that is clearer, perhaps, is that the charges may turn on withdrawal of consent once a sexual act had commenced. The law of almost every jurisdiction in Australia would recognise withdrawal of consent after a sexual act commenced as rendering that sexual act non consensual (and therefore rape). As for proving it … I reiterate what I said about proof previously.”
The Guardian reports that former Crown Prosecution Service extradition expert Raj Joshi said that extradition was unlikely:
“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.”
This 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.
* I might have that completely wrong. The Swedish is “Mastercard, Visa och paypal — skärp er, nu!” I’m happy to be corrected.