WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost the latest stage in his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime accusations, with a judge at Belmarsh Court in London dismissing all of the arguments made by Assange’s defence team against extradition.
Assange’s team, led by barrister Geoffrey Robertson and campaigning solicitor Mark Stephens, promptly announced they would appeal the judgment to the High Court, an appeal that will be based principally on the alleged unfairness of Swedish practice of closed courts for s-x crimes.
Assange’s bail, requiring him to live at the Norfolk mansion of captain Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club, was continued, with a change of guarantors.
The result was not unexpected — Assange’s extradition was applied for under a European Arrest Warrant, a device used to expedite extradition between EU nations. Ninety-five per cent of EAWs are honoured, and few of those it is used upon have the resources to contest them.
The Assange team contested the EAW — which requires Assange to return to Sweden for further questioning on the accusations — on several core grounds:
- That prosecutor Marianne Ny had no authority to order the warrant on which the EAW was based, had made no effort to interrogate Assange while he was in Sweden, and that an EAW was a disproportionate response
- That Sweden’s in camera s-x crime trials denied natural justice and breached EU conditions on which the EAW was based
- That the three “coercion and harassment” accusations would not be crimes under UK law, and the fourth “minor r-pe” accusation did not qualify as r-pe under UK law (thus making the EAW non-applicable, to oversimplify a little)
- That a warrant for further questioning without charges is not applicable under an EAW, and that the whole prosecutorial process had been compromised
- That Assange cannot have a fair trial in Sweden due to media and political bias
- That the UK cannot guarantee that Assange would not be handed over to the US for possible capital espionage charges.
The judge dismissed them all, many of them more or less out of hand — on 5 and 6 he acknowledged the media storm and US interest in Assange but concluded there was no evidence that Sweden’s legal process would be subject to manipulation. On 4, he concluded the Swedish process was investigation leading to prosecution, and therefore proper.
On 3 he made a comparison between the UK S-xual Offences Act and came to the conclusion that there were matching offences in each case. He rejected 2, arguing that EU provisions gave some scope for in camera process, and that there was no substantial precedent arguing against a long-standing Swedish practice.
It was on point 1, alleged lack of authority and misconduct by the prosecutor Ny, that attracted Judge Riddle’s most scathing condemnation of the defence case, branding Assange’s Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig an “unreliable witness” for being slow to reveal that he had forgotten that Ny’s office had contacted him to arrange an interview with Assange. Riddle also suggested the defence’s witnesses on the issue of a prosecutorial witch-hunt were working off inaccurate information supplied by the defence team.
Most likely, none of that would have affected Assange’s case. There was never a chance that accusations about political bias, etc, would work at this level, nor accusations of destruction of evidence, etc. Some of them are well-founded, some of them aren’t, but their purpose is political.
The accusations that in camera trials breach EU conditions of justice wouldn’t have worked here either, but presumably it was required in order to form the basis of the appeal. Robertson and co. will be hoping to establish the precedent that Sweden’s in camera s-x crime trials (a practice going back decades — it’s not a recent, i.e. second-wave feminist development), are crucially in breach of the EU conditions that found the basis of an EAW in the first place.
This is difficult, but far from impossible, since the EU has already made noises about the Swedish in camera practice, and it has never really been tested. Since the case will go to the Supreme Court (which replaced the old Law Lords a few years ago), the Assange team will hope that there may be enough independent-minded judges willing to tell the EU to go shove it.
It has to be said that, while some of team Assange’s stuff about the Swedish legal system is a little OTT, the concern about closed trials seems pertinent, doubly so given the word-against-word nature of s-x crime accusations. The possibility that Julian Assange, or anyone, could simply disappear into a courtroom and emerge guilty, after evidence before a panel of judges that no one gets to assess, is a bit of a stunner to anyone accustomed to the Anglo system.
Though we have now seen the full police report, we are yet to see the most sensational material it refers to — a series of text messages between the two complainants, and between they and some of the witnesses, in which they allegedly discuss getting revenge and making money from the accusations. In that respect the statement of witness 9, a colleague of the second complainant, Sofia Wilen, is not insignificant (though it was taken two months after the initial arrest warrant was issued):
Witness 9 didn’t get to hear about the assault until the day after or or [sic] if it was two days afterwards and got the impression Sofia was very worried she could have been infected. Sofia told her then that she’d told Julian she could be pregnant so Julian said it was nothing to worry about and they’d name the child ‘Afghanistan’. He’d pay off her student loans if she kept the baby.
They talked a bit when Sofia had gone to the police and the media blitz began. Sofia was very upset over the media attention and was mad with Julian. They [Sofia and 9] spoke and sent SMS messages to each other. 9 doesn’t remember directly what they said or wrote, but that they spoke about going to Expressen, this because Julian had spoken to Aftonbladet. This was only something they said and they had no intention of actually doing it. 9 has in any case not spoken with any newspaper.”
9 said Sofia had been contacted by a newspaper in the US and then 9 joked with Sofia about asking for a lot of money.
The chief interrogator asked about the SMS message in which 9 wrote that they had to figure out a good plan of revenge.
9 said that this wasn’t either something they planned to do. It was more an expression of Sofia’s frustration. 9 has tried to support and agree with Sofia in their conversations. She wanted to help Sofia in a difficult situation.
9 also wants to point out that she’s spoken so much with Sofia that it’s difficult to remember what was said and what was not said. 9 wants to point out that when Sofia was at the hospital and went to the police, things didn’t turn out as Sofia wanted. She only wanted Julian to test himself. She felt she’d been overrun by the police and others around her.
Read back and approved.
Will we ever see these SMS messages, which have been referred to repeatedly by Bjorn Hurtig (and in Crikey, by James Catlin)? Not if the Swedish legal process has anything to do with it. A man whose actions have exposed, inter alia, the close collaboration between the Swedish Moderate Party and the US, and is being prosecuted by a grandee of the Social Democratic Party (representing a well-connected activist from the Social Democratic Party), will be tried in secret by a panel of judges appointed by, and members of the Moderate Party and the Social Democratic Party.
Ah yes, nothing to worry about there …
Outside court, Assange made a direct pitch to the Swedish people, to crowd source examples of unjust Swedish legal processes, which he will no doubt get in spades. And maybe, just maybe, those SMSs will fall off a Scania truck between now and then.