The origins of Julian Assange’s current legal predicament are all too easily forgotten in the drama of his ongoing appeal against Sweden’s request that the UK extradite him to answer allegations of sexual misconduct in that country. However, in the opinion of this opinionista, they are crucial to the story, and what we might make of it. With the invaluable assistance of the BBC News Europe I’ve gone back to the beginning.
11 August 2010
Julian Assange arrives in Sweden on a speaking trip partly arranged by “Miss A”, a member of the Christian Association of Social Democrats. He has not met “Miss A” before but reports suggest they have arranged in advance that he can stay in her apartment while she is out of town for a few days.
14 August 2010
“Miss A” and Mr Assange attend a seminar by the Social Democrats’ Brotherhood Movement on “War and the role of media”, at which the Wikileaks founder is the key speaker. The two reportedly have sex that night.
17 August 2010
Mr Assange reportedly has sex with a woman he met at the seminar on 14 August, identified as “Miss W”.
Some time between 17 and 20 August, “Miss W” and “Miss A” – the woman who arranged his speaking trip – are in contact and apparently share with a journalist the concerns they have about aspects of their respective sexual encounters with Mr Assange.
18 August 2010
Mr Assange applies for a residence permit to live and work in Sweden. He hopes to create a base for Wikileaks there, because of the country’s laws protecting whistle-blowers.
20 August 2010
The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issues an arrest warrant for Julian Assange. Karin Rosander, head of communications, says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation.
Both women reportedly say that what started as consensual sex became non-consensual.
Wikileaks quotes Mr Assange as saying the accusations are “without basis” and that their appearance “at this moment is deeply disturbing”. A later message on the Wikileaks Twitter feed says the group has been warned to expect “dirty tricks”.
21 August 2010
The arrest warrant is withdrawn. “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” says one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors, Eva Finne.
Ms Rosander says the investigation into the molestation charge will continue but it is not a serious enough crime for an arrest warrant.
The lawyer for the two women, Claes Borgstrom, lodges an appeal to a special department in the public prosecutions office.
31 August 2010
Mr Assange is questioned by police for about an hour in Stockholm and formally told of the allegations against him, according to his lawyer at the time, Leif Silbersky. The activist denies the charges.
1 September 2010
Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny says she is reopening the rape investigation against Mr Assange, eleven days after a chief prosecutor announced the arrest warrant had been dropped. Ms Ny is also head of the department that oversees prosecution of sex crimes in particular.
“There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed,” she says in a statement. “Considering information available at present, my judgement is that the classification of the crime is rape.”
Ms Ny says the investigation into the molestation claim will also be extended. She tells AFP that overturning another prosecutor’s decision was “not an ordinary (procedure), but not so out of the ordinary either”.
18 October 2010
The Wikileaks founder is denied residency in Sweden. No reason is given, although an official on Sweden’s Migration Board tells the AFP news agency “he did not fulfil the requirements”.
18 November 2010
Stockholm District Court approves a request to detain Mr Assange for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Sweden’s Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny says he has not been available for questioning.
Mr Assange’s British lawyer Mark Stephens says his client offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London or Scotland Yard or via video link. He accuses Ms Ny of “abusing her powers” in insisting that Mr Assange return to Sweden.
20 November 2010
Swedish police issue an international arrest warrant for Mr Assange via Interpol.
30 November 2010
Interpol issues a “red notice” for Mr Assange, asking people to contact police if they have any information about his whereabouts.
8 December 2010
The Wikileaks founder gives himself up to London police and is taken to an extradition hearing at a Westminster court. He is remanded in custody pending another hearing on 14 December.
Below are extracts from a witness statement written by Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, to his English counterpart, Mark Stephens on December 14, 2010. The pdf can be accessed here: “downgraded to ’minor rape’”
The case is one of the weakest cases I have ever seen in my professional career.
I have been refused access to the [full case file] orally, by Ms Ny, the Swedish Prosecutor. I know that the file contains extremely important exculpatory material, for example showing the fundamental inconsistencies in the complainants’ accounts of the key events.
In my opinion it is highly uncertain whether Mr Assange will be prosecuted at all, if extradited. If prosecuted, I consider it highly unlikely that he will be convicted.
I can confirm that I have been trying for many weeks to arrange for [Mr Assange] to be questioned by Ms Ny. All these attempts have been rebuffed by her.
[Here follows a time line in which Mr Hurtig lists these attempts, and the excuses proffered by Ms Ny in refusal, including that she wanted a specific policeman to interview Assange, and he was not available.
On September 15 2010, Ms Nye confirmed to Mr Hurtig that Mr Assange was free to leave Sweden.]
Mr Hurtig continues: I also think it unreasonable that in a case of this kind, where extensive mutual assistance between the UK and Sweden would readily permit a video-link interview, for the prosecution to be so absolutely insistent that Mr Assange return (and at his own expense) to face questions that could easily be put over the video-link. [Assange has many times offered to do this, and offered to engage in interviews with Swedish officials in the UK. The Swedish authorities have consistently refused these offers, demanding extradition instead.]
I note that at least one of the complainants have been interviewed by telephone and the insistence that Mr Assange come back to Sweden merely for an interview is, therefore, unreasonable and contrary to the decision of our Supreme Court (NJA 2007, p. 337).
In his interview with human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson on the 7.30 Report yesterday, ABC TV’s Chris Uhlmann repeatedly referred to “the charges” against Assange. Mr Robertson corrected him, explaining that no charges have been laid against Assange. Allegations have been made. The Swedish authorities wish to extradite him for questioning about those allegations, having refused point-blank all other methods of interview.
After questioning Mr Assange, a decision will be made as to whether or not there are grounds for proceeding to charge him.
This process has already been completed once in Sweden by Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne, who decided the complaints were not sufficiently serious to issue an arrest warrant.