Swedish prosecutors keep up arrest warrant against Assange
The chances that WikiLeaks’ co-founder Julian Assange might have had his legal battle with Sweden ended on Monday appear to have faded away, as the court is unwilling to drop the arrest warrant over sexual assault allegations.
The Swedish court was due to announce an official ruling on Assange’s appeal to drop his arrest warrant. It was issued after he failed to meet the Monday deadline to come to Sweden for questioning over rape accusations. While no news on the decision immediately emerged, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office told RT that its position hasn’t changed.
In response to Assange’s appeal earlier in September, the prosecution argued that “the purpose behind the remand into custody of Julian Assange in his absence is to prevent Julian Assange from absconding or avoiding criminal proceedings or punishments for named crimes.”
The WikiLeaks co-founder and editor-in-chief says the case has been trumped up to hand him over to the US, where he is being investigated for espionage.
“There are two reasons [for the prosecution not lifting the warrant]: one is the prestige on account of the prosecutor, the second one is almost certainly that the US administration is making it known to Swedish authorities that they would like it very much if they kept Mr Assange where he is and leave it as it is,” Swedish activist and politician Lars Christian Engstrom told RT.
In July, a Swedish court upheld an arrest warrant for Julian Assange.
At the time, Assange’s defense team said the European arrest warrant should be lifted on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to act in a timely manner by not interviewing their client at the embassy.
The prosecution argued it was impossible to collect evidence and carry out investigation outside Sweden. After Assange’s appeal, it stayed true to its arguments, saying “we maintain our view that examination of Julian Assange and the performance of a body search in England would not be an effective way.”
The Swedish prosecutors have also opposed the whistleblower’s request to submit a transcript of SMSs to the court of appeal, on which the investigation against him is based. Stating that the defense has received this material before on police premises, it would not present it to Assange, because the documents that “contain sensitive information” could be published online. This has happened with other related materials in the case.
The whistleblower has recently announced plans to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in the near future.
The reasoning behind Assange’s announcement at the time was a change to the European arrest warrant, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism, Gavin MacFadyen, told RT.
“The law has changed in a sense that no one now in Britain can be extradited against their will to a country without being charged. And of course as everybody knows what is significant about Julian Assange’s difficulties is that he’s never been charged,” MacFadyen said.
Prosecutors have once again argued that Assange’s life at the embassy could not be considered a deprivation of his liberty, as “he himself made the choice of visiting the Embassy of Ecuador and remaining there.”
But even if the court accepted Assange’s appeal to cancel the arrest warrant hanging over him, it would not necessarily mean the whistleblower could safely leave his hideout in the British capital.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) 27 октября 2014
“Authorities in London were quick to point out recently, when there was a possibility that his arrest warrant could be revoked, there was still the issue of him jumping bail, so they would arrest him if he leaves the embassy – but practically speaking there would be no more foundation to keep him inside the embassy anymore,” WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson told RT.
In the lead-up to the ruling, Assange had been critical of Swedish prosecutors for pursuing the case against him. Last week, he stated via video link: “We will win because the law is very clear. My only hope is that the court is following the law and is not pressured politically to do anything outside of the law.”
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy since August 2012 to escape an international arrest warrant to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about the allegations. He was later granted asylum by the South American country.
The Embassy is under constant surveillance by London’s Metropolitan Police, who are under orders to arrest the 43-year-old if he leaves its confines. The security operation is reported to have cost over £7.7 million pounds ($12.4 million), according to govwaste.co.uk.
Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder filed eavesdropping claims to the Swedish Court of Appeal on October 17, as Assange fears that he was being bugged. His legal team said that he “is most likely under auditory surveillance,” which was reported by the Daily Mail.
In the summer of 2013, a recording device was found beneath a desk in the office of Ana Alban, the Ecuadorean Ambassador to the United Kingdom, according to Reuters. Ricardo Patino, the country’s foreign minister said the microphone was discovered on June 16 before he visited the embassy to meet with Assange, who lives and works in a different room of the office.
In July, a Swedish court upheld its detention order against Assange. In June, the 43-year-old’s lawyers sought to get the ruling by the Stockholm court in 2010 overturned on the basis that it could not be enforced while he is at the embassy, and because it is restricting Assange’s civil rights.
The Australian fears that if he is sent to Sweden for investigation into alleged rape, he will be transferred to the United States, where he could face a possible trial for his part in WikiLeaks publishing numerous sensitive documents in 2010. These papers contained both secret military and diplomatic correspondences.
If found guilty in the US, Assange could face a 35-year prison sentence for revealing classified documents concerning the country’s military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.