Assange and Human Rights

“A really good round-up post on the #Assange extradition and Wikileaks” – David Allen Green, lawyer and New Statesman legal blogger.
Some responses from supporters of Julian Assange are at the bottom of this article.

Assange and Human Rights

Supporters of human rights – and especially women’s rights – have good cause to be concerned about the Julian Assange extradition case.  It is a very worrying situation.  But there’s a lot of incorrect information going around.  So let’s clarify a few facts:

  1. The US authorities are trying to find evidence linking Assange to the Bradley Manning case, to show that Assange was complicit in espionage.  The investigation is ongoing.
  2. If they find enough evidence, they will probably attempt to extradite Assange from wherever he is.
  3. Sweden do not extradite for espionage or leaking.

Wait. What? It is quite true: Sweden do not extradite for espionage or leaking, and in fact this is written into their extradition treaty with the USA. This has already been covered by David Allen Green at the New Statesman, who sourced his information from Mark Klamberg (professor of International Law at Stockholm University) and Pål Wrange, a colleague of Klamberg’s who is also a Swedish expert on International law.

By the way: Glenn Greenwald’s famous demand for an apology was further clarified by Klamberg in another blog post, but Greenwald’s article remains up and without correction (just misleading “updates”).

But the law is quite clear on this point: Sweden consider espionage to be a political crime; and Sweden does not extradite for political or military crimes.  Not only is this the law, and not only does the Swedish government have no say (having delegated all decision-making power to the courts via their extradition treaty with the USA) but the Swedish authorities have previously refused to extradite a US traitor.  And “Traitor” is accurate: Edward Lee Howard worked for the CIA, but gave secrets to Moscow at the height of the Cold War.  When he was arrested in Sweden for an expired visa, the USA applied for his extradition (claiming that his actions had led to deaths).  Sweden gave the case a quick examination, decided it amounted to espionage, then released Howard so he could return to Moscow.

Howard died peacefully in Moscow in 2002.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sven-Erik Alhem testified for Assange in London at the February hearing.  Judge Riddle summarised Alhem’s statement in the findings (page 6):

It would be “completely impossible to extradite Mr Assange to the USA without a media storm”. It is quite right to say that he would not be extradited to the USA.

So not only is the law clear, but Assange’s own expert agrees with all the other experts.  Yet Assange and others continue to make the claim.

High profile people and organisations are loudly calling for Assange to not be sent to Sweden (where he can’t be extradited to the USA) and instead to remain in the UK (or Ecuador) from where he can be extradited (if Ecuador withdraw their asylum).  Peter Tatchell, Women Against Rape, Amnesty International – all these are campaigning on information that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  That is worrying.  What is especially worrying for feminists is that they are campaigning in favour of a man who is undergoing criminal proceedings for one count of rape and three other sexual offences.

Criminal proceedings? But don’t Wikileaks claim that he has not yet been charged? Indeed they do; loudly and repeatedly.  But if you read paragraph 153 in the English High Court summary of the appeal, it could not be clearer:

Although it is clear a decision has not been taken to charge him, that is because, under Swedish procedure, that decision is taken at a late stage with the trial following quickly thereafter. In England and Wales, a decision to charge is taken at a very early stage; there can be no doubt that if what Mr Assange had done had been done in England and Wales, he would have been charged and thus criminal proceedings would have been commenced…. On this basis, criminal proceedings have commenced against Mr Assange.

So if by “charges” one means “criminal proceedings”, then the position is identical; the argument is merely one of semantics.

Other countries could learn a great deal from how the Swedes treat both victims and accused in sexual cases:

  • The  hearing is in private (considered vital by Sven-Erik Alhem – see page 5) which protects both accused and accusers until a verdict  is reached
  • He said that rape trials in Sweden are normally heard privately. He believes it is necessary to balance the integrity of the injured party against the principle of openness. Both parties might think it is a good thing that the whole trial is heard behind closed doors.

  • The role of the målsägarbiträde is not one that many people are familiar with outside of Sweden: but it sounds like an excellent idea for the court to give the plaintiffs an adviser and counsellor who also knows the details of the legal processes.
  • The ability of a plaintiff to appeal a decision – and the ability (in 12% of appeals in 2010) to have the investigation reopened is a good way of checking decisions.  In England the police are often criticised for deciding not to bring charges in certain cases – this process is a safeguard against possibly wrong decisions

Yet all these (and more) have been – and are being –  misrepresented by Wikileaks and their supporters.  If they succeed in discrediting these processes, what chance is there to adopt them elsewhere?  That can do no good, and could very possibly harm victims (and  accused) everywhere.

There are a lot more examples, which we are collecting on Wikiwatch.

But the fact that Peter Tatchell, Women Against Rape, Amnesty International, and  other high profile supporters are aligning themselves with Assange through such untrue information is not the most worrying aspect of this case.

It’s not the fact that this bad information is being reported by mainstream media like ABC Australia.

It’s not even the fact that justice4assange.com (an official website of Wikileaks),  is heavily biased and also propagates untrue information – or that Wikileaks promote this site so much.

No, the most alarming aspect of the support being given to Wikileaks is that it could be seen as giving tacit approval to the behaviour of Wikileaks (via their official site justice4assange), which links directly to the now infamous Rixstep attack article.

TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR SOME QUOTED TEXT BELOW.
A few choice quotes from that Rixstep.com page (except the names of the two women have been redacted):

Except [REDACTED] never said “no”… [REDACTED] deliberately ambushed him so she could bed him and brag about it afterwards.

..Joseph Goebels.. [would have gone to] feminist Sweden of today to take lessons from the real pros.

Both [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are basket cases.

But there are things one can do against domestic violence, even if the chief cause is the women.

And from this follow the precepts of of Swedish State feminism…
1) Women should preferably not engage in heterosexual sex. They should go lesbian instead.
2) Women in marriages and relationships with men should immediately stop have sex with them.  For to have sex with them is to betray the feminist cause.  Women who have sex with men are traitors. [emphasis in the original, changed to bold here]
3) Sex with a man is always rape. Always. No matter the circumstances.  Period…

To find that numbered list, by the way, search the article for the words “rape the shit out of them”.

You may be thinking that this must surely be a mistake; has the official Wikileaks site linked to rixstep.com by accident? Yet there is the link (with clear instructions to follow it), at the very top of the “Duckpond” page – which is the very first controversy that the site menu points us towards (click “Controversies” – it’s the first option).  But just to make sure you didn’t miss it, Wikileaks tweeted a direct link to that article in December 2011.  Just after they tweeted this (warning: extreme and graphic violence).

Such is the behaviour of the organisation that human rights activists are now standing behind.

So overall, this is a very worrying time for human rights activists and feminists in particular. A powerful, high-profile man is refusing to face criminal proceedings  for rape and sexual assault. His organisation is openly linking to disinformation and nasty articles that attack the plaintiffs personally (and women in general).

And human rights activists are standing with him and supporting him in his fight to avoid returning to Sweden: based on that same bad information. This will not enhance their credibility; but quite the reverse.

Worrying times indeed.

Responses

We pointed out some of the above to people we mentioned and other supporters.

Vivianne Westwood‘s office asked us to re-send the original information (link goes to original emails), confirmed receipt, but would not reply again, despite a further request from us.

Peter Tatchell told us:

I believe that Assange should answer the sexual assault allegations. The alleged victims of sexual assault should not be abused or vilified. Their claims should be taken seriously. They deserve justice if a crime has been committed.

I do not and never have tacitly supported the comments to which you refer. Nor do I approve of the phrase you quote [from Rixstep].

While not agreeing with everything that Wikileaks says or does, overall I support its exposure of war crimes and other abuses by US military and diplomatic personnel.

I urge Wikileaks and my fellow Wikileaks supporters to not abuse or harass our critics or the alleged victims of sexual assault. Let’s keep the debate civilised and honourable, even if some people on the other side don’t.

If Sweden doesn’t extradite to the US on the grounds of espionage and leaking, why has the Swedish government refused to say this publicly?

Mr Tatchell also referred us to his twitter feed, where he (incorrectly) states the following:

  1. Assange has not been charged (see above).
  2. Sweden could extradite to the USA for leaking military secrets and face the death penalty (Sweden cannot extradite for espionage at all – or for any crime if the death penalty is not ruled out by the requesting country in advance).
  3. If extradited for one offence, Assange could later be charged with another one in the USA (this last is also explicitly prohibited by the extradition treaty, as is standard in such treaties).

We would, however, like to join Mr Tatchell in urging the Swedish government to give this very simple clarification: does Sweden extradite for espionage, or for leaking of information (military or otherwise)? Not on an individual case basis, but as stated by Mark Klamberg in his analysis: does the Swedish government agree that this is accurate? A simple statement to this effect would lay to rest a lot of debate in the UK and elsewhere, and possibly help to resolve this situation. Update: We note the Swedish government have already made this statement, which clearly states that they do not extradite for political or military crimes, but we think they could go further with the clarification and explicitly state that political crimes include espionage, and that leaking is not a crime in Sweden.  Sadly, that is what it seems it will take to lay the rumours to rest.

Amnesty International in London have only just been contacted; we await a reply from them.  But their Stockholm office have released the following statement (translation by us with help from Google):

The Swedish section of Amnesty International does not endorse the way the organization has set itself on the issue of guarantees. Swedish section does not believe that it is either appropriate or possible to demand that the Swedish government provide assurances that Assange not be extradited to the United States.

Women Against Rape have not returned our emails, despite several requests over several days.

Reviews and comments on this article

“A really good round-up post on the #Assange extradition and Wikileaks” – David Allen Green, lawyer and New Statesman legal blogger.

“You can support equality or support Wikileaks but you can’t do both” – Nick Cohen, journalist

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