Rundle: pursuit of Assange a product of fraught Swedish sex crime politics
Comparison between the evidence given by Anna Ardin, the complainant attached to the first three accusations, and the legal wording of the key complaint by her against Assange, show that it matches almost word-for-word a paragraph in a high-profile 2009 Amnesty International Report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries.
Within weeks or days, WikiLeaks supremo and now TV host Julian Assange will find out from the UK Supreme Court whether he is to be extradited to Sweden for further questioning on four accusations (no charges have been laid) on sexual matters — two misdemeanour “annoyance” accusations, one of sexual coercion and one of third degree sexual assault/rape.
Now, in a case already mired in controversy, new evidence has come to light, which suggests that the testimony of one of the complainants has been fabricated in order to supply sufficient evidence to “fit” a criminal charge.
Comparison between the evidence given by Anna Ardin, the complainant attached to the first three accusations, and the legal wording of the key complaint by her against Assange, show that it is suspiciously similar to a paragraph in a high-profile 2009 Amnesty International Report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries.
The passage in question is significant because it establishes the minimum degree of physical coercion required to make a felony charge of sexual coercion in Sweden.
Here is the passage from the Amnesty report, first published in 2009:
“In Norway and Sweden, the letter of the law allows even slight use of force to be interpreted as constituting r-pe: it may be sufficient for the perpetrator to “impede the victim’s movements” for example by holding the victim’s arms to pin her/him down, by applying body weight or by forcing the victim’s legs apart.”
And here is the accusation made by the Swedish prosecutor, as part of the process of investigation, after the case was re-opened in September 2010:
Claimed offence one:
“On 13th-14th August 2010, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange, by using violence, forced the injured party to endure his restricting her freedom of movement. The violence consisted in a firm hold of the injured party’s arms and a forceful spreading of her legs while lying on top of her and with his body weight preventing her from moving or shifting.”
Ardin’s evidence, which forms the ostensible basis of the above accusation, follows the itinerary of the Amnesty paragraph fairly closely (I’ve excerpted it below)*.
The similar nature of the accusations in the Amnesty report and Ardin’s evidence (something that sites such as Swedenversusassange.com have earlier pointed to), is significant due to both the atrocious and corrupt and/or incompetent conduct of the investigation of Assange, and of the wider political context in which the accusations have been made.
In summary (a detailed account is below), the near identikit police record/accusation/Amnesty report come amidst a police investigation characterised by an investigation begun peremptorily by an untrained prosecutor, dismissed the next day by a senior prosecutor, reinstated by a prosecutor known for advocating the expansion of the “s-x crimes” remit, following the involvement of former government ministers as legal counsel, the destruction and alternation of evidence by Anna Ardin, allegations of police coercion by the other complainant (Sofia Wilen), the close involvement of a police officer, Irmeli Krans, who was a political associate of Ardin’s in the initial investigation, her public commenting on the process (during prosecution), and a reprimand and investigation by the police board, and conflicting evidence of collusion between the complainants and others in subsequent witness statements to the police.
The correspondence between the Amnesty report and the accusation against Assange can only increase speculation that the pursuit of Assange has become politically motivated as part of the fraught politics of s-x crime in Sweden. The country has a respectable level of s-x crime prosecution — around 4.7 convictions per 100,000 people, nearly triple the Europe average of 1.8, and far in excess of some countries (Portugal’s rate is 0.5, for example).
However, Sweden also has one of the highest rates of inquiry about and report of s-x crimes — the rate of s-x crime reporting has gone up more than 500% since 1975. In particular, it leapt sharply when a new s-x crimes bill was introduced in 2005-6 — inaugurated by a dying Social Democrat administration, brought in by the new Moderate Party government.
Since then, different parts of the Swedish state have been at loggerheads. The law, despite clichéd views of Sweden, is actually less transformative than the UK-Australian s-x crime laws on which it is based. In the latter, active consent has become the centre of the law, without physical coercion. In Sweden, bizarrely, coercion of some sort must be present, but non-duress consent does not rule out prosecution.
This has created an enormous mess — on the one hand it raises the evidentiary demand for incidents such as acquaintance r-pe, yet on the other it removes agency from women in a whole series of grey areas — rough s-x, drunk (but conscious) s-x, s-x in exchange for drugs, etc. The result has been some hair-raising convictions in cases that may be no more than fraught encounters — and acquittals in acquaintance r-pe cases that would have gained convictions elsewhere. Indeed, since the law , the acquittal rate in Swedish s-x crime trials has gone up, from 22% to 33% of tried cases.
This has created a complex cultural-social war in Sweden. The ample feminist state apparatuses in the country allege that the Moderate party has underfunded investigation of s-x crimes, thus allowing for the prosecution and conviction gap. Others argue that prosecuting authorities bring too many cases of insufficient evidence.In response to this, leading feminist statists in Sweden — most prominent among them Marianne Ny, who revived the prosecution against Assange after it had been rescinded by Stockholm’s chief prosecutor — has argued that the rules of remand and prosecution should be used to circumvent the presumption of innocence.
Thus Beatrice Ask, the justice minister, has recently suggested that men accused of soliciting prosecution should be sent a summons in a bright distinctive envelope so that their families and neighbours will know what they are accused of — even prior to conviction. Ny herself has noted the use of incommunicado remand for men in domestic violence cases:
“It is only after the man is behind bars, and when the woman has the time and peace to get a little perspective, that she has a chance to realise how she has been treated.”
The attitude fits into the implicit “false consciousness” model being deployed — that women, even when they consent in crappy circumstances, may still be victims of r-pe. The aim of Sweden’s feminist state apparatuses — the network of university centres, prosecutors and government departments — is to reshape the idea of public s-xual life, and sideline older notions of agency, or the presumption of innocence.
In this fight, the Assange case — facilitated by an ex-gender equality officer who knows the law backwards, but initially attempted to have the prosecution brought solely on behalf of another women (for whom she had previously expressed contempt) — has become a global front in the battle. By now in any other case, the wobbliness of the evidence, unreliability of the complainants would have seen the whole thing dropped long ago.Yet it has persisted, seemingly as part of a wider campaign. Little wonder then that the accusations against Assange should read as a copy of a more general process.
The Assange case farrago
1) Irregularities in the initial accusation —
1.1 The complainant Anna Ardin and second complainant Sofia Wilen went to Clara police station on Friday afternoon August 20 2010. Clara is a small sub-station in central Stockholm — larger stations with longer opening hours are equidistant. On duty at Clara was officer Irmeli Krans, a political acquaintance of Ardin’s — a fellow Social Democrat, fellow member of the party’s LGBT network, and fellow candidate in the Stockholm City Council elections. Krans should have excused herself from involvement in the case. Instead she interviewed Wilen. Ardin did not give a full statement that day. However, some brief remarks she made would used to add two accusations of misdemeanour “ofredande” (annoyance) to subsequent accusations. Ardin departed the station.
1.2 After less than 10 minutes of Wilen’s account (contrary to directed procedure for s-x crime accusation, no transcript of the interview exists — merely a summary), police called the duty prosecutor — a temp, covering the office during Sweden’s holiday month — who issued an investigation warrant for Assange. While Wilen continued giving evidence, police began combing Stockholm’s central bar area on the hope of finding Assange.
1.3 Towards the end of her 90-minute interview, after being informed that a r-pe investigation had been opened against Assange, Wilen broke down, claimed (this is recorded in the police report) that she never wanted to report the incident as r-pe but had been “influenced by the police and people around her”, and refused to sign the police report.
2) Discontinuation of investigation:
2.1 On Saturday afternoon the next day, Ardin was interviewed by police — once again basic protocol was broken, and the interview was conducted by phone, and no transcript recorded. By now, Eva Finne, the Stockholm chief prosecutor had called the case in, after reading the leaked report of it in the right-wing Expressen newspaper (the reporter who wrote up the story was at a crayfish party being held by the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, at the time; he had recently returned to journalism after being suspended for several years after writing stories using fabricated data favourable to Reinfeldt’s right-wing Moderate party in the lead up to the 2006 election).
The previous night Ardin had given an interview to a media contact at Aftonbladet newspaper — without Wilen, and also destroying any chance at anonymity in the Stockholm “duck pond” — saying that Assange was “not violent and she did not fear him”. The next day, following Wilen’s breakdown, Ardin gave her evidence (from home) detailing an encounter matching the minimum requirement for a felony accusation of “s-xual coercion”. She also claimed to still have in her possession the condom used in the s-xual encounter a week earlier.
2.2 On Saturday evening, prosecutor Finne rescinded the r-pe investigation, and allowed the misdemeanor “annoyance” accusations to stand.
3) The investigation restarted.
3.1 On Monday, Claes Borgstrom, former social democratic gender equality spokesperson, drafter of the 2005 s-x crimes act, and law partner of former justice minister Thomas Bodstrom (who in 2001 was involved in the illegal rendering of Swedish citizens to CIA jails in Egypt) becomes involved, as the women’s public lawyer. He appeals the decision not to prosecute to a different chief prosecutor — Marianne Ny, a Gothenburg prosecutor, former head of the S-x Crimes development unit, whose brief is to explore new areas for s-x crime law to be applied to.
3.2) In the two weeks following the appeal of the prosecution, Ardin removes two tweets from her twitter feed, which demonstrate an ongoing relationship with Assange in the days following the August 13 s-xual encounter which forms the basis of her complaint — they show her organising a party for Assange, and bragging that she is with “the coolest most important people in the world” during that party. The tweets are recovered from the twitter stream on her blog, where she had neglected to delete them.
On Unga S-kvinnor Rebella, a feminist blog jointly edited by Ardin and others, an account of the Assange-Ardin incident (“Even WikiLeaks heroes do crappy things”) written up Sara Gunnerud in the days after the initial complaint, has several paragraphs changed to remove a reference that explicitly excluded accusations of violence from the account. However, no mention is made that the post has been amended by Gunnerud a rising “spin doctor” with the Social Democrat party, who has addressed many party branches on the importance of “strategic communication”.
Later, Ardin deletes a post from her blog, a nine-step guide to revenge on cheating ex-lovers adapted from a popular US blog meme. Responding to charges of “un-Christian” behaviour in the comments section, Ardin comments that (prior to the Assange incident) she had used revenge on a lover who had hurt her. Ardin tells Swedish legal campaigner Goran Rudling (who had earlier discovered her deletion of tweets) that she will not delete the post. The post is later deleted.
4) Late evidence
More than a week after the allegedly coercive s-xual encounter, Ardin supplies a condom to the police, with a cut/tear at the tip, claiming it is one that Assange tore off during their s-xual encounter. Forensic examination contained in the police report cannot conclusively determine the nature of the cut/tear. No DNA is found on the condom.
5) Re-opened prosecution
On September 1, 2010, Marianne Ny announces that she has reinstated the investigation into Assange. There are now four accusations: the two initial “annoyance” misdemeanours (made by Ardin), the third-degree r-pe/s-xual assault accusation (made on behalf of Wilen), and a new accusation of s-xual coercion, made by Ardin and couched in terms echoing the Amnesty report. The new coercion accusation means that Assange can be remanded on custody, charged with a felony, and/or extradited, even if the accusation by Wilen collapses due to her non-co-operation.
6) Witness statements
In subsequent months, police interview friends and associates of Ardin, Wilen and Assange, establishing a very fractured picture of the encounters. Specifically:
— two friends of Ardin’s give conflicting accounts of her remarks on the night of the party after her s-xual encounter with Assange — one records Ardin saying the s-x was “rough” but consensual, another that Ardin did not feel safe/secure with Assange. The second friend notes that Ardin said she could “have” Assange if she was attracted to him.
— Journalist Donald Bostrom, an associate of Assange and Ardin, says he believes Ardin to be credible, but “doesn’t know what to believe” later in the week, when Ardin accuses Assange of coercive behaviour. He notes that Ardin not only allowed Assange to stay in her studio apartment for a week after the s-xual encounter, but refused several offers (fielded by Bostrom) for alternative accommodation for Assange. Bostrom also notes that on the Sunday following the s-xual encounter (the day after the party), Ardin agreed to be media liaison listed on a press release announcing an agreement between WikiLeaks and Sweden’s Pirate Party.
— Witnesses contradict Ardin’s statement that she only knew of Wilen’s existence when she called Ardin on the Thursday (the day prior to the police interview), noting that she had remarked on the Monday that Assange had “gone to f-ck the pink-cashmere sweater girl” — a reference to Wilen’s attire when she had inveigled herself into a lunch held for Assange following the lecture he had given, organised by Ardin (the day after their s-xual encounter).
— One friend of Wilen’s records that Wilen had said she was “only half-asleep” when Assange had initiated s-x with her — the encounter that forms the basis of the r-pe accusation. Another friend notes that she and Wilen joked about how much money they would make.
Ardin’s phone statement to police (excerpt):
*”Anna thought Assange wanted to immediately put his p-nis in her v-gina which she didn’t want as he didn’t have a condom on. So she tried to twist her hips to the side and squeeze her legs together to prevent a penetration. Anna tried several times to reach for a c-ndom which Assange stopped her from doing by holding her arms and prying open her legs and trying nevertheless to penetrate her with his p-nis without a c-ndom. Anna says that in the end she was ready to cry because she was pinned and couldn’t reach a c-ndom and thought ‘this might not end well’. In answer to a question Anna says Assange must have known she was trying to reach for a c-ndom and he was holding her arms to stop her.
Assange asked after a while what Anna was doing and why she was squeezing her legs together. Anna then told him she wanted him to put on a condom before he entered her. Assange released her arms and put on the condom Anna got for him.”
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.