A Swedish court has issued an international arrest warrant for WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, on charges of r-pe and misconduct that were first made several months ago. The warrant was issued on a request by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who re-opened the case against Assange in September, after it had been dismissed by a lower level prosecutor.

Assange, who is currently in the UK, was “remanded in absentia” on the arrest warrant. Yet the warrant is an arrest for further questioning, not a full charge for criminal trial. The prosecutor’s office said that they had no choice but to issue the arrest warrant in order to continue an investigation into the matter, claiming that Assange had refused to speak with them. Speaking through his UK lawyer Mark Stephen, Assange denied this, with Stephens saying that:

“Despite his right to silence, my client has repeatedly offered to be interviewed, first in Sweden before he left, and then subsequently in the UK (including at the Swedish Embassy), either in person or by telephone, videoconferencing or email and he has also offered to make a sworn statement on affidavit.

“All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers.”

Meanwhile, Assange’s Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig described the warrant request as “exaggerated” and “out of proportion”.

The international warrant leaves Assange open for arrest in many Western countries, including the UK and leaving various unsavoury options for refuge, including Russia and Cuba.

The accusations were first made in August, by two women whom Assange has acknowledged meeting. Swedish sources close to WikiLeaks stated that Assange had had consensual casual encounters with both women during the same week.

The first, known only as SW, then contacted the other — Anna Ardin, a well-known Social Democrat political activist — making various complaints, and both decided to report Assange to the police. A junior duty prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for r-pe, which was countermanded by a higher prosecutor the next day. Ardin later stated that “there was never any accusation of physical coercion … this is just about a guy who has a few problems with women.” Other sources stated that the women had gone to the police to find out if they could oblige Assange to take an STI test.

The accusations came at a time when Assange was applying for a Swedish work and residence permit, which would permit him to be a director of incorporated bodies necessary to the process of basing WikiLeaks in Sweden, which would allow it and Assange to take advantage of journalist shield laws. The request, and the scandal, came several months after WikiLeaks released its “Afghan War Diaries” — nearly 200,000 leaked documents from Afghan war operations, revealing a higher level of civilian casualties at allied hands than had been previously acknowledged.

Assange was refused the permit for Sweden in mid-October, based on the ongoing investigation of the r-pe charges, which had been re-opened by Ny. Since then he has spent his time between Sweden, the UK and Switzerland. On  October 22, WikiLeaks released its Iraq war logs, a vast cache of more than 400,000 documents covering the war. Pre-released to The Guardian and The New York Times, the Iraq war dossier pushed the number of documented deaths in the conflict to 100,000 (up from 40,000, and indicative of vastly more), revealing graphic details of civilian deaths arising from bad policing, and casual allied violence as well as sectarian chaos.

The release prompted renewed calls from elements of the US Right for the assassination of Assange, and rumours that he would be charged under the US espionage act if they could get their hands on him. However, the release also coincided with a growing backlash against WikiLeaks and Assange in particular, with the resignation of the No.2 spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who accused Assange of being autocratic, and suggested that others were leaving the organisation. The NYT — or members of its pro-Iraq war faction — also published a long profile of Assange at the same time as the Iraq war dossier, essentially accusing him of being paranoid and isolated.

Assange has denied this, and claimed that a host of recruits has joined WikiLeaks. However, he also said that the group is spending 40% of its time fending off cyber attacks from the US and others. The site’s website is currently hosting only the Iraq and Afghan dossiers, with hundred of earlier leaks unavailable — a fact that some have used for evidence in the charge that WikiLeaks has become exclusively focused on the US government, while other leaks sites such as Cryptome, take material — much less interesting material, it must be said — from a wider variety of sources.

When the r-pe accusations were first aired Assange made vague remarks about US involvement in honey-trapping, though few gave this much credence. Ardin, Assange’s named accuser, was after all on the left of the social democratic party, a self-described radical feminist, who had organised Assange’s talks to the “Brotherhood”, the Christian faction of the Social Democrats.

Given that Ardin, her lawyer Claes Borgstrom, and prosecutor Ny were all heavy-hitters in Swedish gender politics, most money was on an out-of-control process becoming subject to wild a-se covering. However, some people have been more sceptical about the other complainant, who had become obsessed with Assange during his lecture tour, and acted as an unofficial photographer. “A known honeypot,” said one source.

Given the nature of the charges, many are reluctant to make explicit charges, though the Swedish libertarian left has less qualms than most, seeing a certain type of legalistic feminism as now part of official state ideology, rather than an instrument of liberation. There’s plenty of that sort of evidence for those who want it — Borgstrom was the social democratic party’s gender equality spokesperson for years, Ardin was “gender equality” officer at Uppsala University, the Oxford of Sweden, and Ny runs a prosecutor’s unit whose explicit brief is to extend the remit of s-x crime prosecution to wider areas of social life.

The missing element is the US, which has been busily re-extending its security links in Sweden after decades of being frozen out by the country’s official neutrality, and the valiant opposition of continuous Social Democratic governments to American imperialism and crimes against humanity.

But the Social Democrats just lost their second election in a row (for the first time in 80 years), indicating a decisive power shift in Sweden, to the centre-right Moderate Party. With that has come a more pro-US attitude (the Moderate Party government has enacted several entirely unnecessary “war on terror” laws in solidarity with the US) and the renewal of co-operation between US intelligence, and SAPO, the Swedish domestic spy agency.

Neither the Moderates nor SAP, nor major elements of the Social Democrats would have much interest in Assange gaining residency, because he would then benefit from the multiple and interminable legal right processes in Sweden (the ones being extended to his accusers, and which he is currently suffering from). Did they take advantage of a chaotic situation? Or even play one of the complainants (Ardin), who had three months earlier posted a “guide to s-xual revenge” on her blog, including tips on how to use the law to wreak havoc on cheating lovers?

For his part, Assange shows no sign of going back to Sweden any time soon, and has announced that he may sue the Swedish government — something he could easily do in the European Court of Human Rights. International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson told Crikey in September that he thought Assange had an excellent case, and that he would be happy to help Assange out in these matters. Robertson also urged the Australian government to “carpet” the Swedish ambassador over the treatment of an Australian citizen. Small chance of that, but it’s high time that the Greens made an issue of it in Parliament.

The legal process has been farcical, and even if there were accusations of violence, constitute cause for objection. Given the absence of such allegations, or any allegations at all — even the complainants lawyers weren’t allowed to attend the warrant hearing, because the prosecution didn’t want to disclose its evidence — the process has been a travesty. Given the role WikiLeaks has played in challenging state power over the past three years, and the authoritarian nature of many in the Swedish elite, of left and right, you’d be a fool to stand idly by.

Assange, currently orbiting Mars in WikiLeaks Pod Nine, could not be reached for comment.

Peter Fray

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