The Swedish police's case against Assange

ENTANGLED BY LAW WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after being released on bail at the high court in London on Dec 16. NYT

Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy organisation who was released from a British jail late last week, is facing a new challenge: the leak of a 68-page confidential Swedish police report that sheds new light on the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to Assange’s legal troubles.

The Swedish report traces events over a four-day period in August when Assange had what he has described as consensual sexual relationships with two Swedish women. Their accounts, which form the basis of an extradition case against Assange, are that their encounters with him began consensually, but became nonconsensual when he persisted in having unprotected sex with them in defiance of their insistence that he use a condom.

Assange’s supporters have pointed to Swedish prosecutors’ flip-flopping in the case — reviving allegations that had at one point been mostly dropped — as more evidence of the manipulation of the case.

But the police report and dozens of interviews in recent months with people in Sweden linked to the case bolster, to some degree, the women’s assertions that they were not put up to the charges by enemies of Assange as well as prosecutors’ claims that the reversal was quite normal. They say it resulted from different levels of prosecutors having different opinions on the seriousness of the allegations.

However, those who have questioned the women’s allegations have cited the fact, supported by the police report, that the women involved seemed willing to continue their friendships with Assange after his alleged sexual misbehaviour until they discovered by talking to each other that they had both been sexually involved with him.

The police report obtained by ‘The New York Times’ and translated from the original Swedish, is a preliminary summary of the evidence taken by investigators when they met with the two women and with Assange, who left Sweden for Britain in early October but subsequently refused to return to Sweden for further questioning. Assange has told friends in Britain he decided not to return after concluding that the Swedish case was being driven by a desire to isolate and punish him for WikiLeaks’ actions in publishing the secret US documents.

The Swedish documents trace the accounts given by the two women of their intimate encounters with Assange. As previously reported, both women say that Assange first agreed to use a condom and then refused, in the first instance by continuing with sex after the condom broke and in the second by having sex with a woman who was asleep without using a condom.

Assange himself has refused to address the women’s accounts directly, both before his Dec 7 arrest on the Swedish extradition warrant and since he was released from a 10-day period in a London jail last Thursday after a group of friends and celebrities posted $3,10,000 bail. But he has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and insisted he is a victim of a political conspiracy. On Friday, he told the BBC that the case presented in the London courts was ‘a smear attempt’ and that the impending publication of the Swedish police documents amounted to ‘another smear attempt’.
The two women have been referred to in the British courts only as Ms A and Ms W. Ms A, according to the police report and to Swedish friends, is a left-wing activist in her early 30s who was Assange’s point of contact when he flew from London to Stockholm on Aug 11 to give a speech at a gathering hosted by the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats on August 14. Ms W, who works in a Stockholm museum, has no declared political affiliation, according to her friends, but has told friends that she is a strong supporter of WikiLeaks.

Ms A told the police that arrangements had been made for Assange to stay at her Stockholm apartment for a few days while she was out of town. But the report said she returned early, agreed to allow Assange to stay in the apartment, then had dinner out with him and returned to the apartment to drink tea.

Assault

The details of their sexual encounter that weekend have been redacted from the copy of the police report obtained by the ‘Times’. But ‘The Guardian’, which said it had obtained an unedited version of the document, reported last Saturday that Ms A told police Assange had stroked her leg, then pulled off her clothes and snapped her necklace. The report quotes her as saying that she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again.”

According to ‘The Guardian’, Ms A told police that Assange pinned her arms and legs to stop her reaching for a condom. Eventually one was used — but, she told her police interviewer, he appeared to have ‘done something’ with it, resulting in its tearing.

Ms W, 25, lives in a suburb of Stockholm, Enkoping, about 40 miles north of the city. A few weeks before Assange arrived in Sweden, she saw him on television, according to the police interview in the Times’ version of the police report, and found him “interesting, brave and worthy of admiration.” When she discovered that he would be speaking in Stockholm, she contacted Ms A to volunteer her help.
Her offer was not taken up, but she decided to attend the lecture anyway, where she met Ms A in person. After the speech, she told the police, she sat next to Assange at a group dinner. He flirtatiously fed her bread and cheese, she said, and put his arm around her. She said she “thought this was flattering.”

The group dispersed after dinner, leaving Assange and Ms W alone, the police report said. They decided to go to a movie, where, the report said, the couple began caressing, then moved to a back row, where they continued. By Monday evening, Ms W and Assange met again, visited her workplace in a Stockholm museum and walked around the city’s old town together, the police report says. “They decided to head to her place” by train, but Assange told her that he did not have any money and that he feared he could be traced if he used his credit card. She bought their tickets, for about $16 each.

Unprotected sex

The unredacted police report obtained by ‘The Guardian’ says that the two had sex, with a condom. In the report she described waking up to find him having sex with her again, without a condom. Later that morning, Ms W told police, Assange “ordered her to get some water and orange juice for him”. She said “she didn’t like being ordered around in her own home but got it anyway.” That account led to the prosecutors’ listing rape among the allegations they wanted to question Assange about, lawyers for the Swedish prosecutors said.

Swedish legal experts have said that the section of the Swedish penal code involved in the allegation refers to the third and least serious of three categories of rape, known as ‘less severe’, commonly invoked when men use their strength to have sex with partners against their will. The maximum penalty for the offense under Swedish law is four years.

Back in Stockholm, Assange returned to Ms A’s apartment, despite what she describes as a deteriorating relationship in the light of their previous sexual encounter.

On Aug 18, according to the statements the prosecution has made in court, Assange attempted to initiate sex by rubbing himself against her when naked from the waist down. This, Swedish officials said, is the grounds for one of the allegations of ‘sexual molestation’.

Later the same week, according to the police report, Ms W got in touch with Ms A to try to seek out Assange after he had failed to keep a promise she said he had made to call her. In the conversation, the report said, the two women discovered that both had had sex with Assange without a condom.

Assange and Ms A’s friend said this summer that the two women then decided to insist that Assange have a test for sexually transmitted diseases.

It seems Ms A asked Assange to leave her apartment at around this time. The police report says he did so on Friday, Aug 20. On that day, when he did not take the test, the two went to Stockholm’s Klara police station, where, according to the police report, they ‘wanted to get some advice’ and were “unsure of how they should proceed.” By that time, friends of the two women have said in interviews, both women had already confided details of their experiences with Assange to them.
After the two women were interviewed at the police station, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant the same night. Assange said at the time he did not know who his accusers were.

Political interference

Assange’s suspicions of political interference in the case were confirmed, he has said in recent days, by the decision of the Swedish prosecutors to drop the initial arrest warrant and to downgrade the investigation to one of ‘molestation’, a minor offense. Those decisions were reversed in late August when the chief state prosecutor, Marianne Ny, overruling a subordinate prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, restored the original allegations, saying that rape was the appropriate charge for the evidence on file with the prosecutors.

Legal experts in Sweden have said that the decision was not unusual given the success that the women’s movement in Sweden has had over the past 30 years in recasting Sweden’s criminal laws on sexual issues, making them extremely protective of women’s rights, and the intense public interest that has been stirred in Sweden by the Assange case.

But Mark Stephens, Assange’s lead lawyer in London, has repeatedly said, without providing details, that ‘a senior political figure’ worked to have the case reopened.
The reference appears to have been to Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer for the two Swedish women, who is Sweden’s former equal opportunities ombudsman and the spokesman on gender equality issues for the Social Democratic Party, the main opposition group in the Swedish parliament.

In a recent interview in Stockholm, Borgstrom, 66, said it was common under Sweden’s rape laws for men who force sex on women without a condom to face prosecution.

By presenting the case as a vendetta, Borgstrom said, Assange and his legal team were misrepresenting a justice system that required approval from Sweden’s highest appeal court before the extradition warrant was approved.

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