Julian Assange should face justice

//Julian Assange should face justice

Julian Assange should face justice

By | 2017-09-02T18:54:56+00:00 August 22nd, 2012|Blog|11 Comments

Julian Assange (picture Martina Haris/Julian Assange)

It is wrong that national borders should be used as a means of evading criminal justice.  No bank robber escaped to the Costa del Crime should think that crossing a border is protection from the consequences.

Federalists supported the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), for example, as a way of rebalancing the idea of free movement within the single market to ensure that victims of crime were not further disadvantaged by its perpetrators.  If someone could flee readily across a border after committing a crime, they must be returned readily to face justice.  The long-standing practice of extradition treated this return as a judicial matter, requiring potentially protracted court cases of its own.  The EAW turns it into a matter of police cooperation, aiming for speed: justice delayed is justice denied, after all.

In this light, what to make of Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy inLondon?

He is wanted on suspicion of having committed sex offences in Sweden and, having fought and lost against an EAW all the way to the Supreme Court in the UK, has sought and gained political asylum from the government of Ecuador.  The embassy is now surrounded by the Metropolitan police 24 hours a day, on the chance that Julian Assange might make a run for it.  His fear of arrest and transfer keeps him confined to a room in an office with only a treadmill and an internet connection for company.

Julian Assange apparently claims that he is not unwilling to face the charges in Sweden, which he denies, but that he fears extradition from Sweden to the United States to face prosecution there for offences allegedly committed as part of the Wikileaks project.  To avoid that second extradition, he has no choice, he says, but to seek protection somewhere else. Ecuador has offered that protection, which is why he has ended up in a small room in Knightsbridge.

The British government has (1) rightly said that Julian Assange should go to Sweden for trial but (2) clumsily threatened the Ecuadorian embassy with closure.  Naturally, this threat has only provoked and entrenched the Ecuadorian position: “we are not a British colony”.  (Read Sir Brian Barder on the subject here.)

It has been wisely pointed out by David Allen Green that Julian Assange is at no greater risk of extradition to the US from Sweden than he is from Britain: the same legal protections under the Lisbon treaty and the ECHR apply in both countries; to be extradited from Sweden having arrived there under and EAW from another EU member state requires the approval of that member state too; and the British extradition treaty with the US is notoriously ready to accede to requests.

The suggestion that the allegations of sex offences in Sweden are part of a conspiracy to get Julian Assange from Britain to America has to overcome a series of obstacles if it is to be credible: why not seek his extradition directly from the UK?  Until the allegations in Sweden were made, Julian Assange was hoping to live in that country anyway.  If the Americans really are as ruthless as Assange’s supporters allege, in view of the exposure of the practice of extraordinary rendition to which Wikileaks has contributed, why did they not simply kidnap him while he was out on bail in Norfolk?

There may be a good answer to these questions, but I have yet to read them (and I have read a lot of defences of Assange in the newspapers and on the web in recent days).

The main point put forward on his behalf is that he is ready to face those allegations in Sweden – of course he is, perish the thought of any doubts – but only if he is guaranteed not to be extradited to America.  What could be fairer?  But it is legally and logically impossible for a court to dismiss an extradition request, or any other petition, before it has been served – who knows what it might say?  Either his supporters know this and are disingenuous, or they do not know this, in which case they have no business commenting on the legal position at all.

This website has great sympathy with the Wikileaks project, so cannot be accused of being part of an anti-Assange campaign, but it also has great sympathy with other aspects of human rights, too, among which is numbered the right of women not to be raped or sexually assaulted.

And that is what is behind Julian Assange’s actions. That he is accused of sex offences is crucial.

He has positioned himself as a representative of the oppressed, revealing the unworthy secrets of the powerful to the world.  But the story of his behaviour in Sweden reveals, if true, that he is, in the eyes of the female half of humanity, one of the oppressors himself, with unworthy secrets of his own.  Formerly a hero, he will end up exposed as just another man who thought that power meant he did not have to keep it in his pants.

Going on trial in Sweden risks not only a jail sentence but also humiliation; he would not be a martyr for his cause but rather a traitor to it.  Hide in a London flat, flee to South America, anything but that.

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  1. Robert Harneis 25/08/2012 at 13:18 - Reply

    Funny this article does not raise the question as to why the Swedish prosecutors and police will not come to London to question Assange. Curious.

  2. John 25/08/2012 at 13:56 - Reply

    Maybe Julian should face justice. But he has hightligthed an important area of govenrment.
    Who will apply justice to the State sponsored murderers in the Pentagon. Who will punish them for the over 100,000 innocent people kiiled in Afghanistan.
    All in the name of security. How many Afghan children threatened the USA. How many Afghan have died defending their country against foreign invaders- Russian, British, American.
    Support JUlian, he is the good man. Condemn the murderers in the Pentagon the MOD, the British armed forces,
    Do not be fooled by their propaganda- heroism, patriotism etc. Theye are all murderers.

  3. Richard 25/08/2012 at 14:14 - Reply

    Why will the questioning not happen in London? Because the Swedish criminal justice system takes place in Sweden, I guess. That’s where the Swedish police, Swedish prosecutors, Swedish defence lawyers and Swedish courts are. Which suspects in criminal cases get to dictate to the prosecution when and where they will consent to be prosecuted?

    • Brian Barder 25/08/2012 at 15:56 - Reply

      Exactly right. The Swedish authorities may also need intermittently to check Assange’s answers to their questions with other witnesses, especially the two complainants, who are all in Sweden. Even more conclusively, according to my understanding under Swedish judicial procedures, the formal questioning for which Assange is wanted is designed if appropriate to lead directly to his arrest and formal charging — which can take place only on Swedish soil (and obviously not in a foreign embassy in London where the embassy’s government has purported to grant Assange some form of refugee status and ‘diplomatic asylum’). And just to pre-empt a possible further question (“couldn’t he be questioned on Swedish soil in the Swedish embassy in London?”): no, contrary to widespread belief, embassies have diplomatic immunity from unauthorised entry and search, etc., but they remain the sovereign territory of the host country.

      Even the Ecuadorean government, rather inconsistently, has admitted that Assange should answer Swedish questioning about the accusations of rape and sexual assault formally made against him. It’s very difficult to imagine any grounds for disagreeing with that. It’s rather dispiriting to find that so many people who feel a strong attachment to Assange, because of indiscriminate approval of Wikileaks and its actions, are apparently unable to separate this in their minds from the completely different questions of the serious accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, the right and duty of the Swedes to investigate those accusations, the right and legal duty of the British government to extradite Assange to Sweden to answer those questions (a duty confirmed unanimously by three English courts up to and including the Supreme Court), and Assange’s clear obligation to face that questioning in Sweden. The suggestion that Assange, as the suspect against whom such serious accusations have been made, is entitled to lay down conditions for consenting to answer questions about them, including that he should be given some kind of impossible guarantee against ever being extradited to the US under an application that has not been made to face charges that have not been laid, is frankly preposterous.

      Finally, the question why the US has not applied for Assange to be extradited from the UK rather than from Sweden is misconceived: in the first place, the US has not applied to either country, nor to any other, for Assange’s extradition; and in the second place, it would be futile to apply to the UK for his extradition since the Swedish application has already been made and would take priority, so if we were in a position to extradite Assange to any country, it would have to be to Sweden. As you (Richard) rightly point out, this does mean that if the Americans do apply to Sweden for Assange’s extradition, presumably after we have managed to extradite him to Sweden, acceding to that application will require the consent of the UK government as well as the government of Sweden, so the requirements of two different extradition agreements will have to be satisfied as well as the safeguards against abuse or injustice under both UK and Swedish domestic laws and treaty obligations. But the point to hang onto is that none of this is in any way relevant to the accusations made against Assange in Sweden and the duty of everyone, including Assange, to ensure that they are properly investigated.

  4. Ottar 25/08/2012 at 14:38 - Reply

    First of all the Swedish police never found out on their own who killed their prime minister over 20 years ago, it was only after the murderer left a note after he died of natural causes that the case was finally solved. So that the Swedish police/prosecutors refuse to inrerrogate Assage in London, makes them poppets of the CIA. It’s obvious that the USA wants him. I loved to learn that Assages co founder of wikileaks has named one of the women in Sweden that are accusing him of rape, he should have named the other one too. Let’s hear their version of what happened, why haven’t they come forward yet? I am more and more convinced that the CIA is pulling the strings here!!

  5. Robert Harneis 25/08/2012 at 14:58 - Reply

    British police regularly question suspects aboad and allegedly the Swedes do the same. Nobody who has even a small knowledge of the behaviour of the US govt when in pursuit of its enemies can be surprised that Assange is afraid of what might happen if he goes to Sweden.

    • Brian Barder 25/08/2012 at 16:04 - Reply

      If I had done what Assange has done in accepting and publishing thousands of classified documents stolen from the US government , whatever the moral or political case for doing it, I would be afraid of being sent to the US to face charges about it. But what on earth has any of that got to do with the absolute right and duty of the Swedish authorities to investigate the serious accusations made by Swedes in Sweden of rape and sexual assault allegedly committed by Assange in Sweden? There is no evidence of any kind of any connection whatever.

  6. Robert Harneis 25/08/2012 at 16:45 - Reply

    “There is no evidence of any kind of any connection whatever.”

    There is plenty of circumstantial evidence and given the exceptional circumstances and given the appalling US record of extra-legal strong arm tactics, the Swedes could easily come to London to ask their questions in what is a pretty simple allegation of rape and help resolve the situation. Why not? They wont say but the Swedish government, like the British government, is pathetically inclined to give Washington whatever it wants. There are precedents in not unsimilar cases.

    • Brian Barder 25/08/2012 at 21:32 - Reply

      I’m afraid this is a straightforward case of believing what you want to believe: not reds, but feds under the bed. Of course anything’s possible, but the hidden hand of the CIA is really no more likely, absent evidence, than that it’s all the work of the Wicked Witch of the West, or Mr Putin.

  7. Richard Laming 28/08/2012 at 12:38 - Reply

    The route from the UK to America no more goes through Sweden legally than it does geographically. (Mark Klamberg, Lecturer public international law, Stockholm University, explains here.)

    The terms of the European Arrest Warrant require that any subsequent extradition to a third country must satisfy the extradition requirements of the two countries at either end of the EAW. This is a protection for the citizen subject to an EAW. So, to be extradited to America after having been transferred by EAW from the UK to Sweden means to satisfy the extradition rules of both the UK and Sweden. To be extradited to the US directly from the UK requires satisfaction only of the UK rules. Going via an EAW to Sweden can be no easier and is likely to be harder.

    Secondly, the Swedish extradition rules prohibit extradition for political or military crimes. Publishing leaked documents for political purposes would seem to be fairly well covered by this prohibition.

    And thirdly, no extradition request from the United States has been made. Were one to be lodged to the UK at some point in the future, it could not be considered by the English courts until the EAW case with Sweden was resolved.

    The consequence of these three points is that the EAW request from Sweden probably makes Julian Assange less likely to find himself in America facing trial, and not more.

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