WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has released a summary record of the testimony he gave to Swedish prosecutors last month, when they interviewed him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London — and it contains a record of texts between the two women who had accused him of rape and sexual assault, which includes a denial that rape occurred, and a plan to sell their story to the Swedish tabloids.
The interview was the second one to which Assange had submitted — the first being with Swedish police during the initial investigations of the accusations in August 2010. He was targeted for extradition by the Swedish government, after leaving Sweden several weeks later without being re-interviewed. Since 2012, he has been in political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, offering to be re-interviewed there. Swedish prosecutors refused to consider doing so until a year ago, and the interview took place last month.
Assange’s account of his days with SW — the woman on whose behalf Swedish prosecutors started a prosecution for “third degree rape” — gives a mildly different slant to the stories now circulating, based on SW’s testimony, but it varies little in account of events and timelines, etc. The gist, for those who’ve purged it from their memory, is this: in August 2010, Assange went to Sweden to try to base WikiLeaks there and take advantage of Swedish whistleblower protection. In the days following a talk he gave, he had separate sexual encounters with lecture organiser Anna Ardin and SW, who attended. Several days later, both women communicated and decided they wanted Assange to take an STI test, as both encounters had been less than fully protected. They claim Assange refused to do so; Assange claims poor communication, and that he had agreed to do it in a few days. They went to the police to, they claim, inquire about forcing an STI test; on the basis of an interview regarding SW’s encounter — morning sex, during sleep, without a condom — a junior prosecutor issued a warrant for rape. This was rescinded the next day by the Stockholm prosecutor, who said there was no case to answer — and then reinstated by a different prosecutor, on appeal, two weeks later.
Transcripts of police interviews with SW show that she did not want a rape prosecution at the time, saying that the police had wanted it, and that they had bullied her into it. When the prosecution was reopened both women were represented by Claes Borgstrom, a former Social Democratic government minister, indicating that the state had got involved in a big way.
The deal of scepticism around the accusations were undermined in December, on the eve of Assange’s extradition pre-hearing in London when The Guardian, WikiLeaks’s former partner in publishing the Cablegate archive, published an account of the events (from a police file leaked by a disgruntled WikiLeakista), which, as I’ve shown elsewhere, misconstructed consensual rough sex as non-consensual, and omitted SW’s misgivings.
Assange’s record of second interview puts a different slant on some of the events — noting that his personal bank accounts had been blocked during his stay there, forcing him to rely on a limited network of supporters. He also records his initial suspicions of SW, who had inveigled her way into the lecture, and was a trifle obsessed with Assange ––believing her to be a possible “honeytrap”.
Most importantly however, Assange records the contents of several text messages between Ardin and SW, obtained by police, made available for viewing to his lawyer, but not permitted further circulation. These have been spoken of before, but their contents only gleaned implicitly through the police report.
SW’s texts record (after the encounter) that “[the sex] turned out all right”; on August 20 she texted that “did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange” but that “the police were keen on getting their hands on him” (14:26); that she was “chocked [sic shocked] when they arrested him” because she “only wanted him to take a test” (17:06).
On August 23, Ardin — who was still acting as Assange’s press liaison in Sweden — texted to SW that it was important that she went public with her story so that they could form public opinion for their case (06:43); that afternoon, SW replied that it was the police, not herself, who started the whole thing (16:02). On 26 August, Ardin tweeted to “SW” that they ought to sell their stories for money to a newspaper (13:38). Apparently, by August 28 SW had been convinced, for “AA” texted that they had a contact on the biggest Swedish tabloid (12:53); “SW” texted back that their lawyer negotiated with the tabloid (15:59).
Quite possibly, Swedish prosecutors may deny that this is a record of the texts (they have yet to do so, though they weren’t expecting the interview to be leaked, Swedes thinking Swedishly to the last). But it matches up with interviews contained in the police report, especially of friends of SW’s who spoke to police days and weeks after the initial arrest of Assange was sought. Asked about the texts in which SW talks of a tabloid sale, a friend who received it dismissed it as a joke. Another friend noted that SW had told her she was “half-asleep” when the encounter in question began.
There was no sale to the tabloids by the two women, so far as one can tell. But by that time the appeal against non-prosecution had begun, and things had swung into high gear; indeed the appearance of Borgstrom (imagine, say, Bob Carr, suddenly turning up to represent two young Labor activists accusing a visiting, and inconvenient, say, Tibetan activist of sexual assault, and you get the picture) indicated that the case had become part of wider political currents almost immediately.
Currently, only SW remains a complainant (Ardin’s accusations hit the five-year statute of limitations). If she did not want to press the issue initially, she appears to have changed her mind — last year she sacked Borgstrom and hired a feminist law firm that specialises in honour killings and women trafficking (and is the family lawyer of ex-PM Carl Reinhardt).
Why would the state become so involved in a case like this? One answer lies in Assange’s attempt to base WikiLeaks in Sweden and take advantage of its journalist and whistleblower protections. That would have made it impossible for the Swedish government to prosecute for the publication of leaked materials, including exchanged US-Swedish intelligence. That would certainly have meant a suspension of intelligence sharing by the US.
The rape allegations against Assange were an early manifestation of a split on the left/progressive side, with those supporting him arguing, or de facto accepting, that the scenario — the commencement of sex in the morning with a sleeping/half-sleeping partner, with consent gained almost immediately — in no way constitutes rape. The other side, a certain formation of statist feminism, argue that a rape accusation should always be played through, no matter what other geopolitical moves are afoot. In the years since, these divisions have only become more stark.
The crucial question might now be whether some notion of complexity can be allowed back in. The release by Assange of his own testimony as regards the complainants’ texts is a place from which to put pressure on the Swedish prosecutors to release the texts themselves, in an authoritative version. This they certainly will not do. That puts them further on the defensive, and may well swing some broader public opinion back to WikiLeaks.
Good God, it goes on.