To the certain dismay of the US, British and Swedish authorities, Julian Assange has published the statement he gave to the Swedish investigators who questioned him a short while ago.
The statement sets out in detail Assange’s reasons for refusing to return to Sweden for questioning, providing a detailed account of the proceedings brought against him by the US authorities in the US, and of the contacts he alleges have taken place between the Swedish and the US authorities to extradite him to the US should he return to Sweden.
The statement also provides an explanation of why Assange feels he has cause to fear for his safety should he be extradited to the US. This part of the statement relies heavily on the example of the treatment meted out to Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier who was the source of the leaks published by Wikileaks of the US military’s conduct during the insurgency in Iraq which happened after the war there.
The part of the statement which however breaks the most new ground is however the part in which Assange discusses the case against him and his contacts with the woman in Sweden who he is alleged to have raped.
According to Assange not only was it this woman who first contacted him and offered to take him home, but she made known to him during the short period of their time together her intense interest in him, and her pressed desire to have sex with him, which Assange hints caused him embarrassment.
From Assange’s statement it appears that it is not disputed that this woman and Assange had consensual sex during the night before the alleged rape, whilst Assange specifically denies that he had sex with the woman whilst she was asleep, which is the whole basis of the rape allegation which has been made against him.
Assange claims that his account is corroborated by text messages and tweets sent by this woman whilst they were in contact with each other and in the period thereafter. Apparently the originals of these messages and tweets have not been provided to him by the Swedish authorities, but they were shown to his lawyers at a police station in Sweden, and were copied by them.
In the statement Assange also complains at considerable length about what he says is the oppressive behaviour of the Swedish authorities towards him: reviving a rape investigation after it was closed down, issuing an arrest warrant against him without proper cause and in breach of due process, and insisting on his extradition from Britain to Sweden instead of questioning him in Britain, as he had repeatedly offered.
In this part of the statement Assange says that the Swedish prosecutor’s decision to interview him in the Ecuadorian embassy in London – something which the Swedish prosecutor had previously consistently refused to do – was the result of a decision in March 2015 of the Swedish Supreme Court that she was in potential breach of her duties, and of the February 2016 decision of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council that he has been illegally denied his freedom as a result of her actions and of the actions of the British authorities.
Assange’s statement is obviously partly intended to give his side of the story after years of legally enforced silence.
As Assange rightly complains, numerous stories about him and about his case have appeared in the Western media, some undoubtedly leaked to the media by the Swedish authorities. These leaks and stories were clearly designed to ruin his reputation, and have in fact been very effective in doing so.
It is clear that Assange has been deeply frustrated by all this, and that now that he has finally been able to give the Swedish investigators his side of the story he feels that the time has come for him to set the record straight.
It is probably also the case that by seeking to make what he says is the weakness of the case against him public, Assange is trying to force the Swedish prosecutor’s hand, compelling her either to drop the case against him, or forcing her to charge him, thereby finally reveal what further evidence she has against him.
Since this is an ongoing legal case it is better not to speculate too much on the details. I will however make three observations of my own.
Firstly, the rush to judgment against Julian Assange on the part of some people – casting aside any pretence of due process and of the presumption of innocence and without having heard his side of the story – has been nothing short of outrageous, and must unavoidably call into question their motivations.
I have to say that I have also been dismayed at the readiness of some people to assume Assange’s guilt simply because he has been accused of rape without the full details of the case being known, and notwithstanding that it is a crime for which – as he carefully points out in his statement – he has never actually been charged.
Secondly, there is no doubt as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council has correctly said, that the action of the British authorities in preventing Assange from travelling to Ecuador after he was granted asylum is in breach of international law and of his rights as a refugee.
Thirdly, the Swedish prosecutor has hugely damaged her own credibility and of that the Swedish authorities by the way in which for years she refused to have Assange questioned in Britain.
Whatever one thinks of the case against Assange, in light of the proceedings brought against him in the US he does have cause to fear what might happen to him were he to go to Sweden. It would have been entirely proper in light of this to interview him in Britain. Given that there is ample precedent for doing it, and no conceivable reason why it might prejudice the investigation, no remotely satisfactory reason has ever been given of why it was not done. The fact that it has now been done moreover shows that it was always possible to do, and that the Swedish prosecutor’s previous refusal to do it had no basis.
These major procedural flaws in themselves call into question the bona fides of the whole case that was brought against Assange. In light of the legal decisions which have now been made – by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council, by the Swedish Supreme Court, and I suspect before long by the European Court of Human Rights – and of what Assange has to say about the case brought against him in his statement, I would not personally be surprised if the case against him is soon dropped.