As he awaits sentencing in England for breaching bail, and fights possible extradition to the United States, Julian Assange might soon face legal jeopardy in a third country, Sweden, where a woman who says the WikiLeaks founder raped her in 2010 has asked prosecutors to reopen their investigation.
More than 70 British lawmakers signed a letter urging their government to give priority to any extradition request from Sweden, should the abandoned rape case resume, over the one filed by the U.S. The letter, written by Stella Creasy, a member of Parliament for the opposition Labour party, was signed on Friday night by colleagues across the political spectrum. In it, the lawmakers urged Home Secretary Sajid Javid “to give every assistance to Sweden should they want to revive and pursue the investigation.’
Tonight over 70 parliamentarians stand with victims of sexual violence, and are calling on both the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Sec to urge them both to be champions of action to ensure Julian Assange faces Swedish authorities and is extradited there if they so request: pic.twitter.com/uaJMM984Cc
— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) April 12, 2019
“We must send a strong message of the priority the UK has in tackling sexual violence and the seriousness with which such allegations are viewed,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to stand with the victims of sexual violence and seek to ensure the case against Mr Assange can now be properly investigated.”
Reports that the Swedish investigation could resume prompted some legal analysts in Britain to suggest that Assange’s extradition to Sweden could make his extradition to the U.S. less likely.
Assange initially took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy in 2012, after England’s High Court ruled against his final appeal to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual molestation and rape leveled against him by two women.
In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors announced that they were closing their investigation into the sexual assault allegations in light of the asylum granted to Assange by Ecuador, and the fact that the statute of limitations on the claims made by one of the women had elapsed. At the time, Sweden’s chief prosecutor said that the investigation could be reopened if it became possible to extradite Assange.
When Ecuador rescinded Assange’s asylum on Thursday, he was arrested for violating bail in 2012 and for allegedly conspiring with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, as she leaked classified material to WikiLeaks in 2010.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for Assange’s unidentified Swedish accuser, wrote on Twitter that her client still wanted him to stand trial in Sweden.
We are going to do everything we possibly can to get the swedish police investigation re-opened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape. No rape victim should have to wait 9 years to see justice be served.
— Elisabeth Massi Fritz (@ElisabethMFritz) April 11, 2019
The woman’s complaint, Swedish prosecutors told England’s High Court in 2011, was that in her home, “Assange deliberately consummated sexual intercourse with her by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep, was in a helpless state.”
“It is an aggravating circumstance,” the prosecutors added, “that Assange, who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used, still consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her. The sexual act was designed to violate the injured party’s sexual integrity.”
Assange’s arrest on Thursday seemed to take Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren, by surprise, and she said in statement that it was “news to us too.”
Later in the day, after the complainant’s lawyer went public with her desire for the case to be reopened, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced that “the counsel for the injured party has requested the Swedish preliminary investigation concerning rape be resumed.”
Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecution, Eva-Marie Persson, is currently conducting a review of the case, according to a spokesperson for her office. Persson stressed in a written statement that the investigation “has not yet been resumed” and offered no timetable for when the decision would be made.
But prosecution authority explained that the investigation could be reopened, now that Assange’s extradition to Sweden is possible, given that the statute of limitations for the suspected crime of rape is 10 years, and the offense was allegedly committed in mid-August 2010.
Assange immediately denied the allegation, and one of his lawyers, Mark Stephens, even claimed at the time that Sweden intended to stage a “show trial” as part of a plot to take revenge on the WikiLeaks founder for publishing documents that exposed wrongdoing by American soldiers and officials. “We saw the smirking American politicians yesterday,” Stephens said after Assange was taken into custody in 2010. “The honey-trap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we’ve seen so far, you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.”
Following Assange’a arrest on Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, came out strongly against his possible extradition to the U.S. He was criticized by another Labour MP, Jess Phillips, for failing to mention the rape allegation.
The fact that Assange has evaded charges of sexual violence and skipped bail should be opposed by the Labour Party. I'm sure it is, I'd like to hear it. https://t.co/17vv19pNA7
— Jess Phillips (@jessphillips) April 11, 2019
David Allen Green, a contributing editor to the Financial Times on law and policy, who has written extensively about Assange’s failed legal battle against extradition to Sweden, suggested on Friday that if Sweden does renew its extradition request, it could make Assange’s extradition to the United States less likely.
Any request from Sweden, on behalf of a complainant who says that she has been waiting nine years for justice to be served, would probably be granted priority by an English court over the more recent request from the U.S., which wants Assange to stand trial for allegedly trying (and apparently failing) to help Manning crack a password to access classified documents.
If U.S. prosecutors tried to seek extradition following any legal proceedings in Sweden, Green observed, that could require the consent of courts in both Sweden and England, and could be challenged by Assange’s lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights. “Therefore any decision to extradite Assange onward to the United States would be subject to legal challenges in both Sweden and England, as well as at Strasbourg,” where the European Court of Human Rights sits.
Even if Sweden does not renew its investigation, Assange’s extradition to the U.S. is likely to be challenged by his lawyers with reference to Article 4 of the extradition treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom signed in 2003, which states that “extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”
And extradition between the two countries is far from automatic. On at least nine occasions since the treaty was signed, the U.K. has declined extradition requests from the U.S. In 2012, then-Home Secretary Theresa May decided not to extradite Gary McKinnon, a British hacker with Asperger’s syndrome who admitted accessing U.S. government computers but claimed he was just looking for evidence of UFOs.
Last year, another alleged hacker with Asperger’s, Lauri Love, won a High Court appeal against his extradition to the U.S. Love, who allegedly stole troves of data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Pentagon, NASA and the FBI, convinced judges that there was a high risk that he would kill himself if sent to an American prison.
Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s current lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the announcement by Swedish prosecutors that they were considering the request to reopen their investigation.
The woman who brought that complaint has not been identified, but the second woman, whose case has now been dropped, is Anna Ardin. She told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in 2010 that the complaints were “not orchestrated by the Pentagon” but the result of actions by “a man who has a twisted attitude toward women and a problem taking no for an answer.”
On Thursday, she wrote on Twitter that she never wanted him to be extradited to the United States.
I would be very surprised & sad if Julian is handed over to the US. For me this was never about anything else than his misconduct against me/women and his refusal to take responsibility for this. Too bad my case could never be investigated properly, but it’s already been closed.
— Anna Ardin (@therealardin) April 11, 2019
On Saturday, the woman who told police that she was raped by Assange sent a message through her lawyer, thanking the British lawmakers and others for their support.
My client is very grateful for all the supportive comments, and for UK MPs urging the home secretary to prioritize a swedish extradition request, should one be made. Violence against women should never be minimized, and the rights of victims should not be forgotten.
— Elisabeth Massi Fritz (@ElisabethMFritz) April 13, 2019
Updated: Saturday April 13, 6:08 p.m. EDT
This article was updated to report the letter from British lawmakers to their government urging that any extradition request from Sweden for Julian Assange be granted priority over a request from the U.S.