The seven-year “investigation” of rape allegations against Australian publisher Julian Assange has been abandoned for a second time by Swedish prosecutors today after interviewing the Wikileaks founder and publisher in November.
Claims of sexual assault by Assange, centring on allegations he did not wear a condom during consensual sex, led to an investigation by Sweden’s chief prosecutor in 2010. The prosecutor dismissed all but one of the allegations, including the accusation of sexual assault, saying “there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever”. However, a right-wing politician and former prosecutor urged that Assange be pursued, and prosecutor Marianne Ny reopened the case, but allowed Assange, who had remained in Sweden to speak with authorities, to leave the country, after which an European arrest warrant was issued for him. It was under that warrant that Assange was arrested and briefly imprisoned in the UK, although the warrant is now no longer accepted by UK courts.
Assange subsequently sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, concerned that extradition to Sweden would lead to extradition to the United States on espionage charges relating to Chelsea Manning’s leaking of diplomatic cables revealing war crimes to Wikileaks (Manning, coincidentally, was released this week from military prison).
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While it was known that a grand jury had been established in Virginia in relation to Assange and the Manning cables under the Obama administration, Assange’s fears were validated last month when it was revealed US authorities intended to charge Assange despite the clear violation of the First Amendment such a prosecution of a publisher would constitute.
In the intervening five years since Assange entered the Ecuadorean Embassy, Swedish and British authorities have concocted an ever more elaborate series of excuses not to interview him about the sexual assault allegations, despite the Queenslander repeatedly offering himself for interview, and Swedish authorities requesting that British police interviews dozens of people in the UK in relation to Swedish prosecutions during that period. The charade culminated in Ny being ordered by a Swedish court to interview him or face the quashing of her prosecution in 2014. However, Ny still had one card to play — she refused to engage with Ecuadorean authorities about obtaining access to Assange, creating a diplomatic wrangle that lasted until Assange was finally interviewed in November 2016.
As Assange always predicted, once he was interviewed and prosecutors had to decide whether to pursue the case, it was abandoned. Text messages from one of the alleged victims in 2010 had long ago confirmed that “it was the police who made up the charges” against Assange. However, Ny now says the decision to drop the investigation is because there is no prospect of Assange being surrendered to Sweden in the foreseeable future.
Throughout his time under house arrest and then in the Ecuadorean Embassy, Assange has received no assistance from the Australian government; in his memoir of his time as Foreign Minister under Julia Gillard, Bob Carr joked about deliberately trying to enrage Assange supporters.
Assange is unlikely to leave the protection of the Ecuadorean embassy immediately, however: he jumped bail in the UK in 2012 and faces the legal consequences of that, and while extradition from the UK is not as easy legally as from Sweden (from where he could be extradited in secret and without proper legal process), the United States — despite claims Wikileaks helped Donald Trump win the presidency — may yet seek to secure him on capital charges relating to the Manning cables.
Ny claims that she may reopen the prosecution “if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations ends in 2020” — despite the fact that Assange was actually interviewed in Sweden in 2010, repeatedly offered to be interviewed further by Ny when she took over the case, and was interviewed again last November.