Julian Assange Case

Extradition likely if rape suspicions confirmed

Published onsdag 12 januari 2011 kl 10:38
Photo: Alastair Grant/Scanpix.
Julian Assange outside the court in London. Photo: Alastair Grant/Scanpix.

The date has been set for an extradition hearing of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange - currently on bail in the UK and wanted for questioning in Sweden for alleged sexual assault and rape of two women.

The case, expected to come to a head at the hearing in London on the 7th and 8th of February has sparked a heated debate here, not least on the Swedish definition of sexual assault and molestation.

The enigmatic leader of Wikileaks famously called Sweden a Banana Republic in a BBC interview last month, where he heaped scorn on the Swedish legal system. He very soon garnered the support of prestigious documentary makers on both sides of the Atlantic, such as John Pilger and Michael Moore, who also levelled criticism at the country.

Now Assange's legal team has upped the ante, releasing a 35 page document presenting arguments against his extradition. It claims that if he is extradited here, he could end up being extradited to the US - or become a victim of rendition and ultimately face the death penalty. Some conservative pundits in the US called for his assassination when Wikileaks released confidential US diplomatic cables last year.

The document rubbishes the Swedish prosecutors demand for Assange to come to Sweden - saying that the prosecutor did not follow the right procedures when the case was first closed and then reopened and that he cannot be forced to travel here, without being charged for a crime. It also argues that the extradition demand is politically motivated and they he would not get a fair hearing.

But perhaps the most controversial claim - the one which will ultimately decide whether Assange graces Swedish shores in the coming months - is that the crimes he is accused of are not considered crimes in the UK.

How rape and sexual assault is defined has been hotly debated here in recent months in an online and mobile phone forum "prata om det" or "talk about it" in English, which encourages people to speak out about negative sexual experiences involving force or violence - including so-called grey areas. 

If Assange's alleged sexual behaviour with the two plaintiffs fits both the UK and Swedish definitions the extradition is likely to happen, said Anne Ramberg, general secretary of the Swedish Bar Association told Swedish Radio.

"In order to hand someone over from one European country to another using this arrest warrant the crime needs to be punishable in both countries," she told Swedish Radio.

"It's been claimed that the acts he is suspected of are not criminal in England but if it's deemed to be rape that would qualify as a crime in both jurisdictions. How you define the suspected crime is very important."

Claes Borgström, the lawyer representing the two women who have accused Assange of sexual assault, says there is no substance to the claims that Sweden has a particularly strict interpretation of the definition of rape. He says the English legislation is even stricter as there does not need to be any violence involved- just a lack of consent to a sexual act. And that's one of the accusation's against Assange.

"The British law goes further than the Swedish - if a man continues without a woman's consent then he is guilty of rape. And in order for him to go free there has to be reasonable cause for him to believe that she did consent," Borgström said.

"So the act he is suspected of is punishable in the UK and in Sweden."

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