By Greta Breveglieri.
When it comes to thwarting and persecuting dissenting voices, the strategy of hiding real, often political motivations behind a false facade of allegations has always been a common practice since antiquity — Socrates is blatant and clear example of this. It’s an easy process, if you have enough money or power to bribe or scare a sufficient number of people: you just need to find a trick — usually a highly defamatory accusation, for example one concerning widely-recognized taboos, disgusting crimes or perhaps… the sexual sphere — to start the character assassination of the thorny guy in question. Then, you will simply need to keep it up as long as possible, leaving the rest to the (manipulated, fooled and unaware) public opinion, which will abandon the person with cynicism and conformism.
Beneath this layer, there is the realm of political corruption. No one is supposed to know about it, its main strength resides in the secrecy and the lie by omission. This is used to conceal the actual interests of those who perpetrate the attack; if they were public, it would be highly embarrassing, pointing to the true nature of the attack.
So, here come a few questions.
What happens when a courageous man with strong ideals decides to actively fight for them instead of simply raving about them from the safety of his armchair? What happens when his actions start to clash with the interests of the most powerful superpower in the world? What happens when governments, security agencies and police bodies feel threatened by the truths that man is exposing about their inner behavior, causing growing fractures in their system of lies and manipulation? Perhaps, it may happen that a puppet State bows to the superpower’s orders and does their dirty work for them, starting a legal persecution against the man, helped by the superpower’s closest ally.
This is exactly what has occurred and is still occurring with the Swedish case against Julian Assange. One of the grossest, most outrageous and most disgusting fiascos of justice ever carried out in recent times, a full-blown abuse of a man’s human and legal rights.
The first sign of this process being put in place came on 10 August 2010, when the US encouraged its allies to open criminal investigations against Assange and to prevent his freedom of movement. Exactly ten days later, on 20 August 2010, two Swedish women entered a police station seeking advise on how to compel Assange to submit to a STD test, having previously had unprotected but consensual sex with him. When they left a few hours later they had become the plaintiffs in nothing less than a rape case — skillfully built up by the State. In her SMS texts, one of the two complainants even stated that she did “not want to accuse him of anything” and “she felt railroaded by the police”, hence she refused to sign the statement.
But all these oddities didn’t matter to anyone when the name of Julian Assange was leaked to the press, precisely to Swedish tabloid Expressen, which violated his legal right to privacy as well as Swedish law by breaking a sensationalist story headlined “WikiLeaks founder hunted for rape in Stockholm”. No foreign mainstream media looked at the fact that the allegations had just been made and that Assange was nothing more than a suspect, not even interviewed yet, when they picked up the news, provoking a worldwide chain reaction that set off the infamous trial-by-media. It aimed to destroy the presumption of innocence, influence the public and sully Assange reputation once and for all — what whistleblower would have ever trusted a ‘well-known rapist’ afterwards?
The following day, Stockholm’s chief prosecutor Eva Finné decided to close the ‘rape’ case, declaring that “there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever”. She cleared him of all the accusations. Assange was summoned to a police station in Stockholm, answered all the questions and was freed. But the damage was done.
This coordinated smearing campaign has never stopped since then. It’s still here, it has simply shifted its modus operandi from a scandal-mongering one to a long-term one. Occasional peaks of intense vilification rise over a silent but omnipresent background buzz made to creep into people’s minds and root. Sneakily or overtly, you can find bits of libel, sometimes just a mere misleading word like “charges” instead of “allegations”, almost everywhere. This isn’t only a terrible unfairness against the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, this is also one of the filthiest methods to manipulate facts and make them fit a pro-government agenda. It’s a perfect symbol of our world, where judicial systems — ideally designed to ensure and protect the ancestral concept of equal justice for all — are being turned into State tools to punish, crush and silence whoever dares challenge the political establishment.
There is no doubt, indeed, that the Assange matter is political. To prove it, firstly we have to specify that soon after Finné dropped the allegations, Claes Borgström, a Swedish politician running for a Justice Minister position, became the attorney for the two plaintiffs and asked his political friend and associate prosecutor Marianne Ny to resurrect the case bringing offences of lesser-degree rape, unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation. After allowing Julian to leave Sweden to attend a meeting with journalists to discuss Cablegate disclosures, she accused him of being a ‘flight risk’ and insisted that he escaped Swedish justice. In November 2010, she issued an European Arrest Warrant against him, paired with an Interpol Red Notice in 188 countries. The EAW takes origin from the hysterical crackdown that followed 9/11, it’s a measure that has been passed in the name of national security and war on terror, thus being absurdly draconian, wrong and overused as many other such laws. It was originally created to prevent terrorists or serial criminals from avoiding trial and punishment, not to be used merely for questioning during preliminary investigations.
And so we arrive at 7 December 2010. This is a key date for this never ending legal case. Five years ago, indeed, Julian Assange surrendered himself to the British police to comply with the Swedish EAW request. He wanted to clear his name and prove his innocence in court, in a fair legal battle in which the rule of law and human rights were respected by both parties. If Sweden and the United Kingdom had a tiny bit of democracy left, this is what would have happened. Instead, he lost his freedom completely and hasn’t regained it not even five years later.
He was thrown into Wandsworth jail for 10 days, then released on bail under incredibly strict terms: £250,000 bail, a nightly curfew, daily reporting to a police station and an electronic bracelet around his ankle to monitor his position. Then, suddenly, Sweden filed an extradition request. They wanted him to come to Swedish soil to be questioned. Assange immediately fought it, for fear that from there he would have been rendered to the United States. Over there, an extraterritorial, multi-subject, “largest ever into a publisher”, totally secret, national security-related investigation against WikiLeaks and himself is still ongoing. Recent news prove that these fears were not imaginary or self-serving, as many have claimed: Norwegian and Swedish state TV channels have released a letter the FBI sent to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway in 2013, asking for collaboration to detain and extradite Edward Snowden to the US should he come to one of these countries. The letter clearly reveals the US government’s underlying strategy: first engage in this type of covert and unofficial communication to settle the plan, and only file a public and official extradition application after Snowden lands in the country. When he would be entrapped and in prison, with the ability to oppose the request considerably hampered. It’s in plain sight that a similar letter and a similar agreement exist for Julian Assange too. Only a fool would deny it. The possible charges against Snowden mentioned in the letter are the same ones listed in the warrants Google received to hand over WikiLeaks members’ account details.
While fighting the extradition request through every English court, Assange repeatedly proposed to be interviewed in the UK. This was the simplest solution, it could have ended everything long ago, but the Swedish Prosecution Authority never even took it into consideration. Ny deceptively branded the opportunity to conduct the questioning abroad as “illegal under Swedish law” — an assertion criticized by many legal experts and proved to be false when a FOI request demonstrated that Sweden interrogated 44 people in the UK, while denying the same treatment to Julian Assange. She impersonated the part of the righteous prosecutor trying to follow due process in pursuing the interests of alleged victims of serious crimes, but actually she was a rogue State servant carrying out a biased behavior in a prejudiced quest for ambition and prestige.
But “ambition and prestige” were not the only reason why she insisted on this absurd behaviour. The core reason — that Julian’s legal team and many supporters have argued for years and that has been described as a ‘paranoid conspiracy theory’ until few months ago — is contained in a batch of new FOIA documents released by the Italian l’Espresso in October 2015.
These documents are email exchanges between the Swedish Prosecution Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the English counterpart with the role of assisting the Swedes. And the above is what Paul Close, a CPS lawyer, told Marianne Ny in January 2011, before Assange’s extradition case had even reached the UK District Court. Close instructed her not to interview Julian in the UK because this “would inevitably allege it was conclusive proof that the Swedish authorities had no case whatsoever against him”. Moreover, he added that “any attempt to interview him under strict Swedish law would invariably be fraught with problems”. So, indirectly, the advice was to completely avoid a questioning in general.
It is a startling and outrageous revelation. We are witnessing two prosecution authorities jointly denying Assange his legal right to be heard and have access to an impartial and unbiased investigation. While he accepted to be put under house arrest and being smeared in the press as a criminal waiting to honestly prove his side of the story and bring rightful closure both for the women and himself, the CPS and the Swedish Prosecution Authority were secretly manipulating the process in order to unfairly disadvantage him and ensure that he would lose the extradition trial. Disregarding the so-called “Objectivity Obligation” — a legal obligation to conduct investigations in a neutral way and at minimum inconvenience to suspects — , Ny arbitrarily decided not to interview him, thus breaking her duty with the help of the British leading public prosecuting agency. They knew that an interview would have put Assange in a better light and position, unmasking the groundlessness of the allegations against him, therefore they set up any possible delaying tactic to keep them ongoing, depicting him as the one who wasn’t willing to submit to justice. Not to count that they shamelessly deceived the public.
Also, this email helps to understand why the European Arrest Warrant was applied here: it requires no prima facie evidence to order the detention of the suspect. When an allegedly ‘torn’ condom provided by one woman as proof was brought to the forensic laboratory, analyzed and eventually dismissed as evidence for not having Assange’s DNA, it appeared obvious to all that there was no ‘prima facie’ in the case. So, given that the only other way Ny could justify imprisonment, that is to say to interview and charge him, wasn’t a possibility, the EAW seemed the easiest path. Under the EAW system, the UK courts could safely ignore the findings of the forensics report, let alone the text messages from the women’s phones that Julian Assange insisted could prove his innocence but the Swedish prosecutor refused to let either his defence team or the courts have copies.
Obviously, if we asked David Cameron or Stefan Löfven or any other Swedish or British politician, they would say that they have been kept in the dark, that they knew absolutely nothing — oh, absolutely, pretty please! — about the covert communication between Close and Ny, that this illegal acts were merely due to the malicious behaviour of two corrupted legal bodies, completely disconnected from their will or orders. They weren’t complicit, not at all. But everyone with a critical mind knows they would be lying, especially if in those FOIA records some more information can be found.
“Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request.” There is no specification of what Close precisely meant when he wrote this, but the message is clear: what is usual for any other criminal investigation doesn’t apply to the Assange case; the rights and the needs any other suspect enjoys aren’t necessarily in force for Julian, not even the right of defense; any means is justified by the final goal, that is to say to crush and destroy him. In short, there are no rules here.
In the end, Assange lost even the last appeal to the Supreme Court, that upheld the extradition request. This decision was later deemed wrong, prompting a change in British laws that now require the presence of charges to extradite someone based on EAW. Unsurprisingly, this modification isn’t retroactive: the warrant is still valid in his case, even if unconstitutional in any other. However, in 2012 he had no options left except taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, applying for political asylum. The UK government even threatened to raid the Embassy to arrest him, thus violating the immunity of a diplomatic premise protected under the Vienna Convention, and desisted only after experiencing international pressure. Finally, Assange was granted protection by Ecuador due to call for persecution and death threats by US officials for his work at WikiLeaks.
From this point on, the investigation was totally stalled. The Swedish prosecution, who should have made attempts to progress it in a time compatible with the principle of proportionality and the right to a speedy trial, did absolutely nothing for years, while Assange was rotting in a small room without access to the outside world, constantly surrounded by Metropolitan Police agents. Their orders were simple: arrest him as soon as he steps out, no matter how, no matter when. The physical, overt presence of the agents was removed only this year, while the covert surveillance received a major boost, in an attempt to drive away the public support and the concern over the costs.
Feeding the stalemate, Marianne Ny kept firmly refusing to go to London to interview him in the Embassy of Ecuador, to do so via phone/videolink or to accept his written statement, as he has been offering from the start of his stay in 2012, this document from the Swedish MoJ shows. In 2013, Swedish authorities even hung up on him when he tried to phone to release an interview, Julian claimed. This is hardly surprising, given that back in 2010 they refused an interview date proposed by Assange’s lawyer Björn Hurtig on the grounds that “one investigator was ill”.
Only when the Svea Court of Appeals found Ny in breach of her duty due to the judicial stagnation of the case, and the imminent Swedish Supreme Court’s judgement put pressure on her, she suddenly made a theatrical U-turn, announcing that she was finally ready to go to London and question him — it wasn’t illegal anymore. But as always in this opaque case, she didn’t really mean it: it was just a way to play the part and pretend to act while actually doing nothing concrete. In fact, she did everything in her power to prevent the requirements for the interrogation from being met. She waited three months since her change of position, and she sent the request for Mutual Legal Assistance to Ecuador only on June 12, a Friday, late in the afternoon, thus giving only two working days to handle it. Obviously, the planned interview on June 17 failed, since there wasn’t enough time to complete the diplomatic procedure. To make matters worse, it came out that Ny sent her investigative team to London anyway, just to prepare a journalistic ambush to push out some more spin: outside the Embassy, an Expressen photographer was waiting to take photos of the Swedish prosecutors supposedly being barred from entering the building, so that they could put the blame on Ecuador for the delay as Swedish Justice Ministry official Cecilia Riddselius claimed in August 2015. This happened despite Ny’s office had claimed they would keep the date of Assange’s interview confidential. After that, well, Ny simply went on holiday, and therefore wasn’t available for negotiations with Ecuador. In the end, she let the statute of limitation on three offences expire, claiming it was all Julian’s fault for “evading prosecution”.
This shouldn’t shock anyone, given that in an internal email, Marianne Ny defined “vital” that no one believes she was responsible for the cancellation of the interview in June.
Yet, in their public response to the FOIA news — on which Sweden is operating a total media blackout, just to say — , the CPS still dared claim that “the Swedish Authorities were and remain ready to prosecute Mr Assange should he decide to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in order to face due process.”
Five years. Five years have passed and I still can’t believe how so many people are able to ignore this disgusting situation. Julian Assange has been living at 3 Hans Crescent, London, for three years now. His present situation violates the UN minimum standard of sunlight for prisoners, one hour a day. He has received none in three years. He has already been detained for more than the maximum sentence he could have received if charged and convicted. His health has been severly damaged due to the lack of Vitamin D and fresh air. The latest problem is a severe and debilitating pain in his shoulder, causes unknown, for which he needs an MRI scan. The UK government denied him safe passage to the hospital, thus preventing him from receiving medical care — a fundamental human right. The cruelty of this behavior cannot even be expressed. He is suffering, this is what people tend to forget: he is a man, not just a political dissident, and he is suffering.
The number of tiny, hidden, ambiguous details in this case approaches the infinite. The number of ambiguous details we don’t know anything about is surely bigger still. They won’t tell us about them, and they won’t tell us the truth, ever. They would suddenly find themselves exposed if they did, without the cozy protection of uncertainty. They would be obliged to be held to account, to provide explanations and justifications for their crimes — because there is no doubt that what they are doing to Julian Assange is a crime — , and this would bring under the spotlight too many horrid interests that too many people want to keep sealed in secret servers in Washington. In the end, this is precisely the reason why this ‘rape’ case is still ongoing: without any hesitation or fear, any dirty compromise or corruption, WikiLeaks and its founder ripped the ‘Veil of Maya’ of the modern geopolitical order, they revealed what others were even too afraid to think, they published and made searchable the documents that clarify the underpinnings of this world.
The least we can do is be grateful and fight at their side till the end.