The statute of limitations has expired on three of the accusations facing Assange, but one remains. But Crikey's writer-at-large raises serious questions about the circumstances around that charge ...
With a leap Assange was free … not. The founder of WikiLeaks, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London on political asylum from UK extradition to Sweden, has passed an important milestone. Three of the four sex-crime accusations against him have lapsed due to a five-year statute of limitations. The Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny has issued a statement saying that the prosecution on these counts has been discontinued, which makes it sound like an active decision (and thus has it been reported round the world), when in fact the prosecution has simply ceased to exist, the clock having run out.
Assange came to police attention in August 2010, after going to Sweden to deliver a lecture to a leftist Christian group within the Social Democratic party. A week after his arrival, two women with whom he had had sexual encounters made inquiries with the police as to whether he could be compelled to take an STI test, based on his reluctance to wear a condom.
A duty prosecutor opened a case for “third-degree rape” and “harassment” (ofredande) based on these interviews, but the rape accusation was thrown out by a senior prosecutor 24 hours later, who said that Assange had no case to answer. The two women, now complainants, then acquired as a lawyer Claes Borgstrom, a former gender equality minister, to appeal the decision not to prosecute.
The rape prosecution was reinstated for complainant B, Sofia Wilen, Another accusation — sexual coercion — was added by complainant A, Anna Ardin. Assange stayed in Sweden for several weeks and was interviewed once by police, with no follow-up from authorities, before he returned to the UK to launch the massive Cablegate archive with The Guardian and The New York Times. At that point, Sweden began to seek his extradition.
With a bevy of lawyers including Geoffrey Robertson, Assange fought extradition for months, arguing that Sweden could — and did in other cases — interview accused persons out-of-country, and pointing out that Sweden’s system of compulsory remand for felony accusations would leave him open to extradition to the US on espionage charges. In June 2012, when all appeals failed, he walked into the Ecuador embassy and was given asylum by the leftist Correa government.
Over the months and years, the lurid details of the case became visible, showing either a full-court press to have Assange in an orange jumpsuit, or a shambles, or both. The complainant of “minor rape”, Sofia Wilen, was a student who had crashed Assange’s insiders-only lecture. The accusation of rape hinged on a passage in her police record in which she said that Assange had initiated unprotected sex with her while she was still asleep, which she consented to some seconds after initiation — this taking place the morning after consensual sex the previous night.
Ardin had had sex with Assange the night of his arrival in Sweden, as she had lent him her apartment, and then come back early from political campaigning out of town. Her initial accusation was that Assange had made two unwanted sexual advances to her in the days following, after she had made it clear that she no longer wanted to have sex with him but that he was welcome to continue to share her studio apartment and bed. The third accusation — of minor sexual assault — was added only after Wilen’s rape prosecution had been thrown out and appealed. It centred on Ardin’s accusation that Assange had torn off a condom during sex, after she had insisted he wear one.
It’s the three accusations by Ardin that have now lapsed, leaving her no longer party to the prosecution. However, the minor rape accusation has another five years on the books. Initially Assange supporters hoped that this accusation too could be dismissed. Wilen, the complainant, had initially told police that she had never wanted Assange prosecuted, and she had been hounded into going to by people around her — Ardin had taken her to a police station where a friend of Ardin’s was a duty officer. The duty officer was later reprimanded for posting “prosecute Assange” messages on her Facebook page.
The prosecution was further complicated by proof that Ardin had attempted to destroy evidence — two tweets that showed she was well-disposed to Assange days after the alleged sexual assault — evidence from friends of Wilen’s that she had remarked/joked about making money from the accusations, and Ardin’s production of a torn condom one week after prosecution was reinstated (and more than a fortnight after the sexual encounter in question), on which no DNA could be found.
The accusations came at the height of Assange’s visibility, and public support for WikiLeaks’ release of the Cablegate files — nearly 250,000 diplomatic cables showing US manipulation and interference in dozens of countries, leaked to WikiLeaks by US military communications grunt Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning. The accusations split mass support for Assange — on the left and across to the centre and libertarian right — right down the middle. His reputation was further damaged in the English-speaking world by a report on extradition proceedings by The Guardian, after WikiLeaks and the paper had discontinued their association with each other. Based on a leaked copy of the police report, the article (which your correspondent filleted at great length in The Monthly) constructed the rough consensual foreplay reported by Ardin as coercive, even though Ardin was not making a complaint based on that part of the encounter. And it omitted the final part of Wilen’s testimony, in which she breaks down and claims that she never wanted Assange prosecuted, and that she had been “railroaded” into it by the people around her.
But Assange has also been to a degree less-than-well served by some of his most defenders, such as John Pilger, who have repeatedly refused to go into the details of the accusations, or to foreground The Guardian‘s major role in damaging the reputation of their former co-publisher. This refusal to make clear how far the accusations fall below any reasonable standard of rape has given the impression that Assange has no requirement to answer accusations because he’s Julian Assange. He has no need to answer the accusations because they’re the product of a Swedish state process that has made all shades of consensual, if misjudged or jerky, sex, liable to prosecution.
The discontinuation of the prosecution based around Ardin’s accusations has not got Assange out of the cross-hairs. In the years since, Wilen’s attitude appears to have hardened. She has sacked Borgstrom as her lawyer and engaged a feminist law firm that specialises in trafficked women and honour killings. Several months ago Sweden agreed to interview Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy on this continuing accusation, but talks between Sweden and Ecuador broke down on the details. The UK has refused to allow Assange to travel to Ecuador from the embassy.
And there it rests — until the next shocking revelation. Or 2020 …
A popular new social movement in Sweden, dedicated to exploring the “grey areas” of sexual life, has been accused of being a campaign directed at Julian Assange, with tweets between the organisers talking of naming the movement after one of his accusers, and coaching each other to “keep the story close to the Assange situation”.
The tweets seem to contradict claims by the organisers that the movement was only inspired by the Assange situation, and had no focus on it, and the leading figures are all well-connected friends of Assange case complainant Anna Ardin.
PrataOmDet (Let’s Talk About It) has become a sensation in Sweden, since it was simultaneously launched by half a dozen leading Swedish journalists on December 20 last year. Its website features a range of stories about sex that went wrong, sex people didn’t want but acceded to, and all points in between.
Journalist Johanna Koljonen, who co-founded the group, says that the movement began as a twitter conversation “talking to people on twitter about how difficult it is to even think about the Assange case in a rational manner”, and telling of some bad “grey area” sexual experiences. Koljonen says she took no position on the case:
“Even if we’re able to unthink the troubling consequences for WikiLeaks if the allegations turn out to be true, and even if we’d by magical means find out the facts about what really happened in the contested situations, we probably still wouldn’t agree on how the facts should be interpreted.”
Asked to write it up for a newspaper, she organised a group of other writers by twitter to publish similar accounts on the same day, and needing a name for it:
“I tweeted, again very casually, that this thing in the papers was happening, and mentioned that obviously anyone who wanted to start on twitter was welcome to #talkaboutit — #prataomdet. I remember thinking that we would need a hash tag for the links to the articles …”
Indeed when PrataOmDet hit the Swedish media on Monday December 20, it had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising against s-xual coercion, by a group of journalists with little prior connection.
This was not the case. As contributors to the Swedish site Flashback discovered, the common link between many was Ardin herself, who was a twitter friend (i.e. following and followed by) to 12 of the most prominent 18 or so initial contributors to the movement.
Though Koljonen gave the impression of being at some distance from the case, she was in fact a close friend of Ardin’s, the first complainant in the case. Indeed, according to her twitter feed, she spent time with Ardin, and another woman whom police would subsequently interview as a witness, on the week Assange arrived in Sweden.
Another key organiser, Sofia Mirjamsdotter, denied knowing Ardin at all, on the collective blog Same Same But Different.
Yet her twitter feed showed that she had exchanged tweets with Ardin half a dozen times, most recently in July last year, asking about a restaurant one had attended, talking back and forth about it.
That there would be connection to Ardin was hardly earth-shattering, given the interconnections of a leftish feminist media network in Stockholm. Nevertheless, the connections, as mapped on the Flashback website were pretty striking.
Twelve of the 18 or so initial contributors to prataomdet, were twitter friends of Ardin’s, including most of the journalists who wrote and published pieces simultaneously in late December when the campaign was launched.
Yet perhaps the clearest sign that this campaign had other agendas was contained in the twitter discussion that proceeded the launch. Contrary to Koljonen’s claim that the name prataomdet came to her, one other idea was suggested:
@barsk we write various articles with a common tag of some kind. All publish about the same time. stand straight in the shit storm.
2010-12-14 21:18:47 via Twitter for iPad in reply to Barsk
… We’re aiming for Monday and must all talk to our editors, thursday latest. Regardless of what the newspapers say, we can blog on Monday
2010-12-14 22:38:19 via Twitter for iPhone
I think ‘#thanks anna’ is a nice little tag, but sounds like we’re taking a position on the issue. I like ‘I am Anna Ardin’ also but the same problem?
2010-12-14 22:41:34 via Twitter for iPhone
Okay decided, on argument: just because Anna’s name is known does not mean we should keep repeating it, so obviously we write without it!
2010-12-14 22:53:26 via web
The tweets pretty clearly indicate that the campaign was not only Ardin focused, but also Ardin-leaning. Despite Koljonen’s protestations that it was impossible to know what happened, there were no suggestions of a #thanksjulian tag. Ultimately it seems that that the only reason an Ardin name was decisively rejected was because it would continue to breach her privacy.
Nor does the discussion suggested a loose coalition of writers, but rather a media push being tightly co-ordinated, a feeling reinforced by a retweet by Koljonen [jocxy]:
danielbjork @ @ elingrelsson jocxy That said, I think that everyone who writes on Monday should be clear and keep everything close to the Assange situation.
2010-12-14 22:41:19 via web for Mac
Retweeted by jocxy
The push was spectacularly successful, and at a key moment in the case. On December 14 when the rapid organisation began, Assange had just been granted bail by the UK magistrates court, while he was awaiting extradition. Finally released two days later, he said that he had been warned of a “big counter-attack”. The day after Assange’s release, The Guardian published “10 days in Sweden”, a report by Nick Davies drawing on a copy of the 100-page police file on the case, leaked to him.
Then, the next Monday, PrataOmDet hit, and reset the Swedish media agenda for weeks to come. Of itself, the stories on its website do not disadvantage Assange. Indeed as the legal reform blogger Goran Rudling notes, they may even help him, because they demonstrated that the whole idea of “consent” and “willingness” in sex crime, was so confused in Sweden that no one knew what they were talking about.
But at another level, the campaign has reshaped the debate in the country where Assange will be tried, giving the impression that a vast sexual grey area has been expanding for too long, and that it is time to put a stop to it. And what explosive, high-profile trial might make that possible?
11/4/11 The original version of this story contained a line about a story published by Nick Davies in The Guardian on December 18 2010, headed ‘Ten Days in Sweden’. It suggested that The Guardian‘s story was ‘heavily skewed’ against Assange and that it omitted ‘much of the ambiguity and contradiction’ from a Swedish police report. We accept that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that the coverage was deliberately skewed and we have agreed to permanently remove the line.
Dec 13, 2010
Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer has delivered his strongest broadside yet against the prosecution of his client for rape and misconduct.
Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer has delivered his strongest broadside yet against the prosecution of his client for r-pe and misconduct, telling an English newspaper that the case is based on lies and conscious connivance between the two women complainants.
The remarks are the strongest yet made by Bjorn Hurtig, one of Sweden’s most distinguished defence lawyers, and constitute a departure from the reserve that usually characterises Swedish legal process.
They come as Crikey exclusively reveals that one of Assange’s accusers has written of the need for revenge against former lovers, writing on a since-deleted blog post about revenge on cheating lovers that “Sometimes it is difficult to go on without some kind of payback”.
Hurtig pulled no punches in his statement to UK newspaper The Mail on Sunday:
“From what I have read, it is clear that the women are lying and that they had an agenda when they went to the police, which had nothing to do with a crime having taken place.
“It was, I believe, more about jealousy and disappointment on their part. I can prove that at least one of them had very big expectations for something to happen with Julian.”
Though still referred to in official documents as “A” and “S”, they were long since identified as Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen. Ardin, a press and political officer with the “Brotherhood” faction of the Swedish Social Democrats, organised a speaking engagement for Assange in Sweden — and may even have invited him to the country in early August.
Wilen is a photographer who attended the event organised by Ardin.
Both women had separate s-xual encounters with Assange in the week following the talk, given on August 14, at Swedish trade union headquarters. Assange was based at Ardin’s flat, but also stayed at Wilen’s.
The women were not known to each other until Wilen called Ardin to ascertain Assange’s whereabouts, after he failed to get in touch with her. Two days later they went to the police to inquire about the possibility of legally requiring Assange to take an STI test. A duty prosecutor decided to start a r-pe investigation, which was rescinded a day later by a higher prosecutor, and then re-instated by a specialist s-x crimes unit based in Gothenburg.
For months controversy has swirled around the issue of evidence in the case. After charges had been re-issued Ardin — or someone with access to her twitter feed — attempted to delete two tweets, which originated from the day after the night of the s-xual encounter on which her accusations were based. These recorded her trying to organise a visit to a “crayfish party” for herself and Assange. Crayfish parties are the Swedish equivalent of a barbecue, but more formal. Ardin eventually organised one herself. From it she tweeted “2am, sitting outside with the most exciting people in the world”. No other tweets were deleted, and the deleted tweets were eventually recovered from the Google cache by Swedish bloggers.
Also deleted and recovered was a “Seven-step revenge plan” posted by Ardin on her blog, a translation of a widely copied US posting. In the comments string Ardin said that revenge was sometimes necessary. A post by Sara Gunnerud on the Rebella feminist blog, which gave a version of events at variance with the prosecution case as subsequently expressed at Assange’s extradition bail hearing, was also deleted and recovered.
It is in the comments string of the seven-step revenge guide that Ardin aired her approval of revenge. Criticised by a commenter “Mik” for being obsessed with revenge, Ardin comments that she has no desire for revenge:
“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 fiance who betrayed me for a long time. My revenge at that point consisted in posting this translation.”
The comments string, as with original posts, was recovered from the Google cache.
The deleted blog posts and tweets are now a matter of public record, but for months rumour has swirled around alleged SMS texts between Ardin and Wilen. There have been repeated allegations about these, such as James Catlin’s remarks in Crikey last week:
“The phenomena of social networking through the internet and mobile phones constrains Swedish authorities from augmenting the evidence against Assange because it would look even less credible in the face of tweets by Anna Ardin and SMS texts by Sofia Wilén boasting of their respective conquests after the ‘crimes’.
“The exact content of Wilén’s mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and exculpatory character has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors.”
However, though these SMSs have been referred to in rumour there is no public record of them, much less of their content. Allegations in Swedish s-x crime cases are sealed and it is a crime to refer to them publicly. It is not, however, a crime for Swedish police to leak details of such investigations (although it is for prosecutors to do so). Indeed Swedish police who leak details of criminal investigations come under the protection of public whistleblower laws.
Hurtig has argued that, were he allowed to speak of these matters, the extradition case would be over immediately.
“But at the moment I’m bound by the rules of the Swedish legal system, which say that the information can only be used as evidence in this country. For me to do otherwise would lead to me being disbarred.”
However, he did venture a startlingly direct interpretation of the women’s behaviour:
“It was, I think, more about jealousy and disappointment on their part. I can prove that at least one of them had high expectations that something big would happen between them and Julian.”
Assange returns to UK court on Tuesday December 14, as the next part of extradition hearings on a European arrest warrant to appear on preliminary charges concerning the event. He has not yet been fully charged with any crime in Swedish court, after four months of investigations. He has been in solitary confinement and special protection (as someone accused of s-x crimes) since bail was refused to him on December 7.
Dec 2, 2010
It is not Julian Assange that is on trial here but Sweden and its reputation as a modern and model country with rules of law, writes Melbourne barrister James D. Catlin who acted for Julian Assange in London in October.
Apparently having consensual sex in Sweden without a condom is punishable by a term of imprisonment of a minimum of two years for rape. That is the basis for a reinstitution of rape charges against WikiLeaks figurehead Julian Assange that is destined to make Sweden and its justice system the laughing stock of the world and dramatically damage its reputation as a model of modernity.
Sweden’s Public Prosecutor’s Office was embarrassed in August this year when it leaked to the media that it was seeking to arrest Assange for rape, then on the same day withdrew the arrest warrant because in its own words there was “no evidence”. The damage to Assange’s reputation is incalculable. More than three quarters of internet references to his name refer to rape. Now, three months on and three prosecutors later, the Swedes seem to be clear on their basis to proceed. Consensual sex that started out with a condom ended up without one, ergo, the sex was not consensual.
For three months Assange had been waiting in vain to hear whether media statements by and for the two female “victims” that there was no fear or violence were going to be embellished so the charges might be carried forward due to greater seriousness. Such statements would stop a rape charge in any Western country dead in its tracks. Rape is a crime of violence, duress or deception. You can rape someone by deluding them into thinking you are someone else or by drugging them or by reason of their young age but essentially it’s a crime of violence.
The women here are near to and over 30 and have international experience, some of it working in Swedish government embassies. There is no suggestion of drugs nor identity concealment. Far from it. Both women boasted of their celebrity connection to Assange after the events that they would now see him destroyed for.
That further evidence hasn’t been confected to make the charges less absurd does Sweden no credit because it has no choice in the matter. The phenomena of social networking through the internet and mobile phones constrains Swedish authorities from augmenting the evidence against Assange because it would look even less credible in the face of tweets by Anna Ardin and SMS texts by Sofia Wilén boasting of their respective conquests after the “crimes”.
In the case of Ardin it is clear that she has thrown a party in Assange’s honour at her flat after the “crime” and tweeted to her followers that she is with the “the world’s coolest smartest people, it’s amazing!”. Go on the internet and see for yourself. That Ardin has sought unsuccessfully to delete these exculpatory tweets from the public record should be a matter of grave concern. That she has published on the internet a guide on how to get revenge on cheating boyfriends ever graver. The exact content of Wilén’s mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and exculpatory character has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors. Niether Wilén’s nor Ardin’s texts complain of rape.
But then neither Arden nor Wilén complained to the police but rather “sought advice”, a technique in Sweden enabling citizens to avoid just punishment for making false complaints. They sought advice together, having collaborated and irrevocably tainted each other’s evidence beforehand. Their SMS texts to each other show a plan to contact the Swedish newspaper Expressen beforehand in order to maximise the damage to Assange. They belong to the same political group and attended a public lecture given by Assange and organised by them. You can see Wilén on the YouTube video of the event even now.
Of course, their celebrity lawyer Claes Borgström was questioned as to how the women themselves could be essentially contradicting the legal characterisation of Swedish prosecutors; a crime of non-consent by consent. Borgström’s answer is emblematic of how divorced from reality this matter is. “They (the women) are not jurists”. You need a law degree to know whether you have been r-ped or not in Sweden. In the context of such double think, the question of how the Swedish authorities propose to deal with victims who neither saw themselves as such nor acted as such is easily answered: You’re not a Swedish lawyer so you wouldn’t understand anyway. The consent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors.
Proposed reforms of Swedish rape laws would introduce a test of whether the unequal power relations between the parties might void the sincerely expressed consent of one party. In this case, presumably, the politically active Ardin, with experience fielding gender equity complaints as a gender equity officer at Uppsala University, had her will suborned by Assange’s celebrity. The prosecutor coming as she does from a prosecution “Development Unit” could achieve this broadening of the law during Assange’s trial so he can be convicted of a crime that didn’t exist at the time he allegedly committed it. She would need to. There is no precedent for it. The Swedes are making it up as they go along.
A great deal more damning evidence is yet to be revealed about what passes for legal process in Sweden, such as Assange’s lawyers having not received a single official document until November 18, 2010 (and then in Swedish language contrary to European Law) and having to learn about the status of investigations through prosecution media announcements but make no mistake: it is not Julian Assange that is on trial here but Sweden and its reputation as a modern and model country with rules of law.
*James D. Catlin is a Melbourne barrister who acted for Julian Assange in London during October.