Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sex, Leaks, and Swedish Law

STOCKHOLM – Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in order to protect him from extradition to Sweden, has raised difficult questions, particularly for the United Kingdom, on whose territory the Ecuadoran embassy, where Assange remains, is located. But British Foreign Secretary William Hague has been clear: “It is important to understand that this is not about Mr. Assange’s activities at WikiLeaks or the attitude of the United States of America. [Assange] is wanted in Sweden to answer allegations of serious sexual offenses.”

But the allegations against Assange – the rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion of two women – seem to have been forgotten by most people, including Ecuador’s government. In fact, Swedish authorities’ extradition request has nothing to do with Assange’s involvement in WikiLeaks.

Before Assange began to use WikiLeaks to divert attention from his personal legal problems, Swedish public opinion toward the whistleblowing Web site was favorable. Indeed, it could be said that WikiLeaks was revered in Sweden’s media.

When Assange visited Sweden in 2010 – presumably drawn by the country’s reputation as a world leader in defending freedom of speech – events occurred between Assange and two female WikiLeaks volunteers of which only they have full knowledge. Outsiders know only that one of the women’s allegations that Assange had non-consensual sex with her while she slept could be characterized as rape under Swedish criminal law – as in most advanced countries. These allegations must therefore be taken seriously.

Since European Arrest Warrants were implemented in 2001, Sweden has used them regularly to bring alleged rapists to face trial. Accordingly, after Assange decided not to cooperate fully with the Swedish authorities, an EAW was issued. Whether the allegations against him are true is irrelevant, as is his involvement in WikiLeaks. Yet, given Assange’s legal strategy, the two are now forever intertwined.

Assange and his supporters claim that the Swedish case is merely an opening for the US to force him to stand trial for his work with WikiLeaks. But, while no one can definitively say that he would not ultimately have to stand trial in the US, no formal extradition request has been issued. And it is impossible to know whether Sweden would heed such a request. (Sweden would never extradite someone who faces the death penalty, for example.)

Moreover, the EAW’s structure does not allow for Sweden to extradite Assange to the US without the UK’s approval. Indeed, such a decision would be in the hands of the British authorities – just as Assange’s fate has been since he fled to London in 2010.

Sweden’s legal system is sound, fair, and just. But no legal system is perfect. Sweden is currently working to strengthen its legal system further, following reliable allegations that Sweden’s best-known serial killer might not be a killer at all, but merely a liar.

Despite its legal system’s flaws, Sweden remains, in Hague’s words, “a country with the highest standards of law… where [Assange’s] rights are guaranteed.” Perhaps more tellingly, the World Justice Organization’s Rule of Law Index places Sweden’s legal system among the world’s most robust, with the lowest levels of corruption and the most rigorous protection of fundamental rights. Ecuador does not even make it onto the list.

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    1. CommentedRasmus Ploug

      While I agree that all allegations need to be investigated (including mildly spurrious ones - possibly including the ones against Assange) in a just modrn society´, there is something fishy about this whole thing, and it's been there from the start:
      The original prosecutor dismissed the allegations as obviously false, ludicrous and opportunistic. That prosecutor was promptly fired (this firing almost certainly had nothing to do with the US, but was entirely brought on by the, frankly, frightening public and political debate on rape and sexual assault that has taken place in Sweden over that last decade or so).
      Under similar circumstances, Sweden has agreed to send investigators to a foreign country to take statements etc., until the charges can be cleared up or formally brought. None of this was offered in this case - why?
      Sweden has blankly refused to give a written guarantee that Assange will not be extradited to the US. If there was any truth to this all being about charges of sexual assault, what would be the problem with offering such a guarantee? It has certainly been offered before. And, Professor Schultz, you are simply wrong when you state that Sweden would never extradite someone who faces a death penalty. Your country (and,sadly, mine as well) has an appalling record when it comes to extradition to torture and death, including extraditions to Egypt and the Soviet Union. And while one might argue that the latter happened under the extreme pressure of the Cold War, I doubt the current pressure from the US on this matter is any lighter.
      Obviously, only Assange and those women know the truth about the allegations of the charges, but this case was never as simple as that. The whole thing has had honey trap written all over it, right from the start.

    2. CommentedAlexandros Liakopoulos

      Dear Prof. Schultz, this is not a matter of inaccurate swdish legal structure and there is no need for comparisons between your country and Ecuador in that sense. However, this is a clear subject of international power which in most cases has nothing to do with legal boundaries. Without aiming to overlook your arguments on extradition procedures of Sweden, would you be as confident as you are on the point Julian Assange could not be delivered to countries maintaining the death penalty through the legal procedure, if we were discussing about "non-legal procedures"? Against a US request delivered under the table, you feel Sweden would be in place to resist, or could it might "look aside" while a possible commando-style "anti-terrorist operation" would be deployed?
      World Politics are hardly a matter of Law; they never were. Mr Assange put a threat to US imperial interests and to specific very dangerous people's agendas. They do not always act according to Law, while their actions create new legal frameworks de facto. If someone fails to make this recognition, preoccupied by his own faculty and the partial view it offers, then he/she fails to see the big picture of the problem. Therefor, his/her analysis may be partial relevant to the problem, but as a whole it gets to be completely irrelevant. It is as if we try to explain why the water would never freeze in Greece cause it is a Mediterranean Country and as such it has a mostly warm weather, disregarding the very fact it does have big mountains, severe winters and temperatures falling under zero in lots of parts of the country, which freezes the water in some regions every single winter!

    3. Commentedprashanth kamath

      In fact, Swedish authorities’ extradition request has nothing to do with Assange’s involvement in WikiLeaks.
      wow! great