With the re-opening of investigations into rape charges levelled at Julian Assange, the enigmatic and all-too-fascinating public face of Wikileaks, the event has now officially entered the territory of farce but the consequences for Assange may well be deadly serious.
A week ago Swedish prosecutors dropped rape charges against Assange, while maintaining an open investigation into general charges of ‘ofredande’, best translated as harassment or disturbance, though usually rendered by the press as ‘molestation’. The initial rape charge had been issued by a junior ‘duty’ prosecutor on a Friday afternoon, after two women had made complaints to the police.
They were withdrawn by a more senior prosecutor on the Monday, who suggested that their issuing had been an elementary error. Both the women concerned were quoted as saying that they had not wanted the charge of rape to go ahead, saying that they had never felt physically threatened by Assange, and that this was “simply about a man who has some problem attitudes to women.”
They have now been reinstated by the Director of Public Prosecution, Marianne Ny, who stated:
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“There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed.
“Considering information available at present, my judgement is that the classification of the crime is rape.
“More investigations are necessary before a final decision can be made.”
The case has now entered the highest levels of public power in Sweden. Ny is a specialist in the ‘legal and methodological’ development of crimes of s-xual offences. She re-examined the case when the decision to strike out the rape charge was appealed by the two women’s new lawyer, Claes Borgstroem. Borgstroem is no yellow pages lawyer.
He’s the Social Democratic party’s spokesperson on gender equality issues, and was the country’s equal opportunities ombudsman in the 2000s. And one of the plaintiffs, Anna Arvid, is both a press officer for a Christian faction of the Social Democratic party, and a blogger on a prominent website Young Rebel Swedish Women.
Assange meanwhile has hired Leif Silbersky, one of Sweden’s most legendary defence lawyers who had expressed confidence that all charges would be dropped Monday, and now says that “…the world’s media are ringing my phone off the hook they don’t understand what is happening, and nor actually do I.”
Rumours swirl on Swedish blogs, their veracity difficult to assess although Assange told Crikey that the most accurate version of events is detailed on the social/political discussion site flashback.org.
There, a timeline of events takes us into the truly awful minutiae of s-xual relationships, with it being suggested that the women went to the police to see if Assange could be forced to undertake an STI check after non-condom s-x took place (Arvid’s account), that a condom broke during s-x (Assange’s), with some suggestion that the harassment charge arose when Assange did not move out of Arvid’s apartment where he was staying.
It’s notable that the account (by fellow blogger Sarah Gunnerad) of Arvid’s side of the story alleges no coercion, and does not even make clear a fully non-consensual aspect to the unprotected s-x.
Sweden is a country with rape laws that are pretty finely calibrated, to say the least, and it is their explicit countenance of a discontinuation of consent in a hitherto consensual act that makes it even possible for these matters to be drawn in as a rape allegation. Other countries have developed such aspects of rape law usually based on Scandinavian ones but it’s fair to say that successful prosecutions for refusing to stop are a rara avis. That is partly due to the problems of proof, by usual nature of the privacy of the act, but also because that part of the law sits at the very edge of what most consider assessable by the law.
Sweden, by contrast, has a different culture, borne of a century-long commitment to equality being rolled over into gender equality from the 60s onwards. Some commentators expressed ridicule at the notion that Arvid, an activist feminist, could be seen to be somehow part of the power structure not realising that a certain type of legal feminism has become integrated into the power structure.
But even in Sweden it seems unlikely that a case as murky as this would continue though of course we don’t have access to the women’s statements to the police. But the fact that three prosecutors of ascending seniority can give three different rulings suggests a lack of clarity on the law concerned, to say the least.
One never wants to prejudge a case like this, but there’s a steiglarrsonesque quality to this — Assange appears to have started seeing woman two (SW), while staying with/’seeing’ Arvid, woman one. Given that Arvid’s blog contains a manual for revenge on ex-lovers, including advice about ‘the big lie’ and getting the law involved, you can’t help but entertain suspicions about ‘hell hath no fury..’ and a bit of anti-phallocratic rage, etc etc.
The question remains as to whether claims of any other agendas being run should be taken seriously. There’s all sorts of fragments of argument swirling around the internet, of unknowable significance. But there’s no reason to rule out the existence of a hidden agenda. The ‘honeytrap’ is a venerable tactic, as is what the KGB used to call ‘kompromat’ the outrageous charge that smears someone even if it found to be without basis.
Should it prove to be a combination of those two things, it’s a doozy. Sweden’s the one place where the complex machinery of the law can be nudged into motion by the very progressive energies that Wikileaks attracts support from. For who would not defend the idea that s-xual assault should cover more than being raped at knifepoint by a stranger? Yet where else would such an alleged passage of events as the Assange/AA/SW case even attract the serious intent of the law but Sweden? If this is a fix, then its intent is to have the Swedish state roll over Assange, in such a way that no progressive can fully object to, even if he ultimately found entirely innocent.
One’s suspicion about this is raised by the fact that Assange applied for a Swedish residency permit two weeks ago, an application now obviously slowed considerably. One of the effects of a permit would be to make any extradition request more difficult to fulfil, and bail easier to obtain. If the US is planning to take legal action against him, having him sitting in a cell on a rape charge, or living as a guest in Sweden, would make things a lot simpler for them.
The entanglement of the Social Democrats in this matter shouldn’t fool anyone — they’re a lot closer to Obama’s Democrats than to the vaguely anarchistic left Assange comes from, and they like the state to decide how information flows. We’ll see what happens as more facts, or any facts, emerge, but this has become a dangerous game for all concerned. Quite possibly somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail, and the question is cui bono?