STOCKHOLM – Julian Assange’s bizarre bid for political asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London has claimed headlines everywhere, but it has obscured an important truth: last month’s decision by the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court that Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual crimes was the only possible outcome. The alternative – to reject the European Arrest Warrant issued by Swedish authorities – would have signaled distrust of Sweden’s legal system, which would have been unfair.
Whatever one’s sentiments about Assange and the claims that he has made in trying to secure asylum in Ecuador, let us be very clear: Sweden is a Rechtstaat – a state governed by the rule of law – in every sense. The Swedish court system is characterized by foreseeability, fairness, humanism, and high professional quality. These are facts.
Yet this description fits poorly with the image of the Swedish legal system that has dominated the debate since the allegations against Assange became public. Indeed, Assange and his supporters have portrayed Sweden’s legal system as a wilderness of injustice and political corruption.
This caricature has become a problem for Sweden. When influential people – filmmaker Michael Moore, feminist Naomi Wolf, journalist John Pilger, and many others – launch attacks on the Swedish legal system, it affects the country’s democratic reputation. And, unfortunately, the caricature has been allowed to dominate impressions of Sweden, because representatives of its legal system and other Swedish experts have failed to provide a more accurate picture.