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Dec 13, 2010

Rundle: timeline of Assange's visit to Sweden and events that followed

The following is a timeline and summary of the public record of Julian Assange's visit to Sweden, incidents therein, and accusations arising therefrom.

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The following is a timeline and summary of the public record of Julian Assange’s visit to Sweden, incidents therein, and accusations arising therefrom. Since what would otherwise be a private legal issue has become a global public cause, and since the level of misinformation has been excessive, we’re presenting this run-down of events in the interests of clarifying debate.

All material, unless otherwise marked, is a matter of public record. Even parts that are marked unconfirmed have multiple separate sources. Nothing that is purely directed towards the character or the history of the two female complainants has been included. Material that has been included is that which goes to questions of reliability of evidence in court proceedings. The timeline has been prepared from public sources in English and Swedish media, and from first-person interviews by Guy Rundle.

Timeline

1) In early August, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, goes to Sweden, possibly to explore basing the organisation there. Sweden has very good journalistic shield and media protection laws. Iceland had been the previous base — and a WikiLeaks holding company, Sunshine Press, is still based there. By Assange’s account, the sway of the US over Iceland’s politics made the country unsuitable for the organisation.

2) In early August, 31-year-old Anna Ardin, a political officer with the “Brotherhood”, a leftish Christian faction of the Social Democratic Party, invites Assange to speak at a “Brotherhood” function in Stockholm, which she organised. She also offers him accommodation, and Assange moves into her Stockholm apartment on August 13. The sexual encounter that will later form the basis of Ardin’s complaint takes place either that night or Saturday. (Unconfirmed: It is often reported that Assange came to Sweden at the invitation of Ardin, which may be significant if true. However, this cannot be fully verified. WikiLeaks has used Swedish servers as hosts for the site, and the possibility of basing the organisation there had been suggested previously).

3) Assange addresses the meeting on Saturday August 14. Also in attendance was 26-year-old photographer Sofia Wilen. She also attended the lunch after the event, where, reportedly, she and Assange flirted, and spent the afternoon together, seeing a movie. (Unconfirmed: Assange’s and Wilen’s sexual relationship begins at this stage) Meanwhile, Ardin sends a tweet: “Julian really wants to attend a crayfish party, anyone got two spare places”?*(*crayfish parties are a traditional summer activity in Sweden, less formal than usual, but more formal than, say, a barbecue. You can’t just turn up with extra guests. There being none going, it appears that Ardin arranges an impromptu one at her apartment.)

4) In the evening, Assange returns to the crayfish party. In attendance are several members of Sweden’s libertarian “Pirate Party”, some journalists and others. From the party Ardin tweets, “i’m with the most important, exciting people in the world”. Assange texts Wilen from the party.

5) On Monday August 16, Assange goes on the train with Wilen to her apartment in Enkoping (Ardin is out of Stockholm during the week), and stays the night. It is the events of this night that will form the basis of the complaint to the police in Wilen’s name. Wilen will later tell police that Assange spent most of the train trip ignoring her and checking his computer

6) *On Wednesday August  18, Ardin tells Assange that he is no longer welcome to stay in her apartment. Assange refuses to leave and does not depart until Friday August 20.

7) On Wednesday August 18 or the 19th, Ardin and Wilen exchanged texts and arrange to meet. (Unconfirmed: tweets from Wilen are made at this time regarding the events of the previous days. Wilen’s internet presence later disappears so completely that Swedish hacker sites conclude that a professional clean-up job has been performed).

8 ) On Friday August 20, Ardin and Wilen go to Klara police station in Stockholm to make inquiries about the possibility of forcing Assange to take an STI test. From the interview, the duty officer concludes that there may be grounds for charges. The on-duty prosecutor (a junior fill-in prosecutor, during the Swedish summer holidays) agrees and issues charges — one for rape/sexual assault for matters concerning Wilen, the other for “ofredande” (o-freda, unfreedom) a misdemeanour best translated as “annoyance”, applying to sexual and non-sexual crimes, in matters concerning Ardin.(Note: there is no equivalent to ofredande in English law, in terms of its reach across private and public life in Sweden. The charge applies equally to bothering someone repeatedly in the street, to the sexual conduct cited in this case. The usual translation of “molestation” is quite misleading in terms of the word’s connotations in Swedish).

9) The details of the charges are immediately leaked to Espressen, the Stockholm tabloid comparable to the Herald-Sun, in style and politics. The leaks come either from the complainants, or the police. Contacted by the paper, the duty prosecutor confirms the charges, an act which is illegal under Swedish law.The duty prosecutor is later quoted as  not being aware that it was illegal to do this.

10) Eva Finne, the chief prosecutor for the Stockholm region, hears of the charges in the news, and has the case file couriered to her holiday house. On Saturday August 21, she rescinds the rape charge, but allows the ofredande charge to stand. On the basis of the police interview with Wilen, Finne says that she does not dispute her story, but sees no description of rape within the statements.

11) On Saturday August 21 (published August 22), Ardin gives an anonymous interview to Aftonbladet, the Stockholm broadsheet. In this Ardin remarked that: “The other woman wanted to report a rape. I gave my story as testimony to her story and to support her. / I immediately believed her account because I had an experience similar to hers. /It is quite untrue that we are afraid of Assange and and therefore didn’t want to report him. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him./ The charges against Assange are of course not orchestrated by either the Pentagon or anyone else. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl is with a man with a warped attitude to women and a problem with taking no for an answer.” (Ardin’s remarks appear to be responses to several questions by the reporter, so I’ve separated them with slashes).

12) On Monday August 23 or the 24th, lawyer Claes Borgstrom becomes involved in the case. It is unclear whether the complainants approached him or vice versa. Borgstrom is a former minister in the Social Democratic Party, and was a for a time the “gender equality ombudsman”, a civil service post.

13) On Tuesday August 24, Swedish feminist blog Rebella, which is run by Ardin and others, posts a long article by Sara Gunnerud entitled “even WikiLeaks heroes can do crappy things”, which gives one account of what happened. This alleged that Assange had continued sex after a condom had broken, despite the complainant’s wish to discontinue. It also mentioned the women’s desire that Assange take an STI test. The posting was later removed from the Rebella website, and is also retrieved from the Google cache.

14) About this time, two tweets are deleted from Ardin’s twitter account — one organising the crayfish party on August 14, and one from the crayfish party announcing that she is with the most exciting people in the world. The tweets are retrieved from the Google cache by a libertarian website.

15) During this week, there is a great deal of blogosphere attention to an item on Ardin’s blog, a “7-step guide to revenge on ex-lovers”. This item, posted on January 19, 2010, a translation of joke material on a US website, features a detailed list of ways to hurt ex-lovers. On September 1, in the comments string, one commenter chides her for being “obsessed with revenge”. Ardin denies the charge, going on to say: “Even though I right now have kind of a strong feeling of punching you in the face … Sometimes it is difficult to go on without some kind of payback. As a human being you should be able to understand that. In this case I was very upset with a former fiancé who betrayed me for a long time. My revenge at that point consisted in posting this translation.”

16) On August 30, Borgstrom approached Marianne Ny, who is the head of a special unit in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, 200 kilometres from Stockholm. Ny heads a special “crime development unit” and is a specialist in the development of sex crime law. Sweden’s state system allows for different departments to act “entrepreneurially” — thus, one can apply to multiple agencies (especially in the area of ombudsmen) for similar services.

17) On August 31, Assange is interviewed by the prosecutor’s office. However, this interview concerns only the “ofredande” accusations. Assange tells Swedish TV that he rejects all the accusations, that he does not engage in non-consensual sex, and declines to answer questions about any relationship to the complainants. Asked to respond to the charges he replies that he “does not criticise women”, but is losing faith in the Swedish justice system.

18) Also on August 31, Assange applies for a work and residency permit in Sweden. The permit would be essential to his plan to found WikiLeaks as a media company in Sweden, with full protection of media shield laws.

19) On September 1, Ny re-opened the investigation into r-pe. There were now three “pre-charges” — one of rape of Ardin, one of misconduct against Ardin, one of rape against Wilen.

20) At some point in September, Ardin deleted from her blog the seven-step guide to revenge, which features on Ardin’s blog. This is a translation of a US joke website item, which details ways in which to get revenge on ex-lovers. This too is retrieved from the Google cache by others. No other items are deleted from Ardin’s blog.

21) On October 30, Assange’s request for a work and residence permit in Sweden is refused.

22) In early November, Assange was given permission to leave the country by the courts. He goes to the UK to work on the Cablegate release.

23) On October 22, WikiLeaks releases the “Iraq War logs” 300,000 documents from the Iraq War, after weeks of pre-publicity, and warnings by the US government not to do so.

24) Accounts now vary concerning events. Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, says that he made repeated attempts to arrange for Assange to answer questions from Ny. Ny’s Gothenburg office claims no approach was made.

25) On November 20, the Swedish courts issued an arrest warrant for Assange, to appear to answer questions from the prosecutor’s office. No charges had been laid, nor accusations specified by the office.

26) On November 28, the first of the Cablegate logs were released in major parts of the world’s press, prompting calls in the US for the assassination or arrest of Assange.

27) On November 30, Interpol issued a “red notice” on the basis of the Swedish warrant, advising that Assange was a person to be detained by police authorities across the world.

28) On December 6, a European arrest warrant was issued for Assange.

29) On December 7, as pre-arranged, Assange surrendered himself to UK police, and appeared in court on a bail hearing ahead of a battle over extradition. At this point, the Crown Prosecution Service, acting for the Swedish Prosecutors Office, read out four “charges”:

  • rape charge: that Assange had held Ardin down, forcibly parted her legs, and had sex with her
  • ofredande charge: that Assange had had unsafe sex with her, despite her earlier statement that she was most opposed to the practice, thereby violating her sexual integrity
  • ofredande charge: that Assange had pushed his erect penis into Ardin’s back, thereby violating her sexual integrity
  • sexual assault charge: that Assange had had unsafe sex with Wilen while she was sleeping

Assange was remanded in custody due to his lack of ties to UK community, and permanent residency, with a new hearing set for December 14.

Some key points:

  1. There are four formal accusations against Assange: three by complainant A (Anna Ardin): one of r-pe (using body weight to hold down and forcibly parting legs), and two of ofredande/misconduct/harassment: unsafe sex, and pressing p-nis against back. One by complainant S (Sofia Wilen): sexual assault, sex while complainant was sleeping.
  2. These were first made public at Assange’s extradition bail hearing on December 7. They vary from earlier accusations, both formal and informal.
  3. There remains confusion as to whether these are formal criminal charges, or retain the status of accusation.
  4. No supporting evidence was produced by the UK Crown Prosecution Service, acting for the Swedish Prosecutor in this matter. The judge made specific criticisms of the prosecution for this omission. Refusal of bail for Assange was based on his lack of community ties, not on any aspect of the charges per se.
  5. Contrary to many reports there is no accusation of consent being discontinued mid-act. Though this may emerge as part of the detail, none of the accusations turn on the issue of withdrawn consent.
  6. Neither of the accusations involving unsafe sex are being made as full rape accusations.
  7. The accusation of physical force has not been previously aired, and is contradicted by interviews that the complainant gave immediately after charges were made on August 20.
  8. Since the initial withdrawal of the rape investigation and its aftermath, there has been no public statement by either complainant. As elsewhere, the Swedish prosecution service is at liberty to continue an investigation, even if the initial complainants do not wish to continue it.

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