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Sep 14, 2010

We should stand up for Assange: Geoffrey Robertson

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson tells Guy Rundle that the Australian government should stand up for WikiLeaks' spokesperson Julian Assange.

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The treatment of WikiLeaks’ spokesperson Julian Assange, facing investigations of harassment and rape, has been disgraceful, leading international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has said from London, and the Australian government should make a formal protest to the Swedish ambassador on behalf of Assange, an Australian citizen.

“Mr Assange has been the victim of utterly incompetent prosecutors who have severely damaged his rights — the rights that every person in Europe has granted to them under the European convention,” Robertson said, speaking exclusively to Crikey last week.

“The Australian government — now that we have a government — should carpet the Swedish ambassador and make a formal protest against the treatment of Assange.”

Assange, based in Sweden, faces charges of “harassment” arising from inquiries and complaints made by two women to the Swedish police in August, one a press officer for a faction of the Social Democratic Party. A charge of rape was also issued by a duty prosecutor at the country’s prosecution service, before being withdrawn 24 hours later.

The investigation of the rape charge was then reopened by Marianne Ny, head of Sweden’s prosecution service. The two complainants are on record as stating that they were not alleging r-pe charges against Assange, and the latter charges were only reopened after they hired prominent lawyer Claes Borgstrom, also a powerful figure in the ruling Social Democrat Party. Ny is a prominent advocate of extending the crime of rape and sexual assault in wider areas of sexual behaviour, and the rape investigation was reopened after Borgstrom approached her personally.

The charges against Assange came several weeks after WikiLeaks released a cache of nearly 80,000 US government documents covering ongoing Afghan war operations, revealing higher levels of civilian casualties at US-alliance hands, and a bleak picture of US progress in the war.

The timing of these events led many to speculate on the possibility that WikiLeaks’ highest profile figure may have been drawn into a sting based on Sweden’s comprehensive and wide-ranging s-x crime and harassment laws, as a way of splitting progressive support for the organisation. US counter-intelligence bureau documents have previously spoken of destroying WikiLeaks by attacking its existence as a “centre of trust” for diverse groups of activists and whistleblowers.

“Mr Assange may have been naïve but he is not a criminal,” Robertson remarked, and suggested that even if Swedish prosecutors proceeded with charges, higher authorities would come to his aid.

“In due course I predict that the European Court of Human Rights would uphold Assange’s position and order the Swedish government to compensate him. His lawyers should already be preparing for that eventuality.”

The Swedish prosecution service is due to make an announcement on its investigations this week. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks is preparing to release a new cache of documents on the Iraq war, and rumoured to number as high as 200,000. The release will be done in conjunction with the non-profit Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Newsweek, and other outlets.

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