• Wednesday, August 20, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Assange in Decisive Round Over Swedish Rape Law

    By Andreas Lönnqvist
    STOCKHOLM, Feb 6 (IPS) The attempt to extradite the Wikileaks founder
    Julian Assange for questioning
    over allegations of sexual crimes has caused a big debate about the
    Swedish
    justice system abroad. The case has also brought the comparatively broad
    definitions of what constitutes rape in this country into the limelight.

    The 39-year-old Australian citizen, who currently is out on bail in the
    UK, is
    wanted in Sweden over allegations of one rape, two cases of sexual
    molestation and one case of unlawful coercion. The allegations have been
    made by two women who met Assange in Sweden during a period of ten days
    last august, just as Wikileaks was releasing classified U.S. documents.

    Assange denies the allegations and has not formally been charged with any
    offence, but is wanted by the Swedish police for questioning. Assange will
    face a full extradition hearing on February 7-8 when a judge in London
    will
    examine the demand to extradite him to Sweden.

    According to leaked police documents published by the Norwegian newspaper
    Verdens Gang and the British daily The Guardian, the two women admit to
    having initiated consensual sexual relations with Assange. But according
    to
    them he would not listen to them when they insisted that a condom be used.

    "Assange was violent and rough. All I wanted was him to stop,"
    says one of
    the women in a police interview, published by Verdens Gang.

    The two women behind the charges have been accused by some of
    Assange’s
    supporters of making malicious complaints or acting as
    "honeytraps" in a
    wider conspiracy to discredit him and Wikileaks.

    The journalist John Pilger dismissed the case as a "political
    stunt" in an
    interview with ABC news, and the Academy-award winning filmmaker and
    writer Michael Moore has published an open letter on his website where he
    claims that rapists usually enjoy impunity in Sweden.

    According to Moore, the "message to rapists" is "Sweden
    loves you!". "So
    imagine our surprise when all of a sudden you decided to go after one
    Julian
    Assange on sexual assault charges," writes Moore, who also claims
    that
    "Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in
    Europe."

    Klara Hradilova-Selin, research analyst at The Swedish National Council
    for
    Crime Prevention (BRÅ), says it is true that the number of reported
    rapes in
    Sweden have increased considerably in recent years. But she says that
    Michael
    Moore’s letter is full of "sheer folly".

    "He paints a picture of Sweden as a country where rapists roam free
    on the
    streets, while Mr Assange is hunted for absolutely nothing. Which is
    completely incorrect," says Klara Hradilova-Selin.

    Klara Hradilova-Selin thinks that the focus in the international debate in
    some cases has been built on the premise that Assange is innocent, and she
    says that even though the case has not yet been investigated many pundits
    act as if they already are certain about all the facts.

    "It is only natural that there are speculations about a possible
    conspiracy
    considering the person involved is so controversial, but the fact is that
    no one
    knows anything about the case before it has been fully investigated,"
    Klara
    Hradilova-Selin told IPS.

    According to BRÅ the main factor behind the high number of reported
    rapes
    in Sweden is the fact that there is a comparatively broad definition of
    what
    constitutes rape. This definition means that more sexual crimes are
    registered
    as rape than in most other countries. Since the law was amended in 2005
    the
    number of reported rapes has increased considerably, as many cases that
    used to be reported as sexual abuse are now registered as rape.

    Klara Hradilova-Selin says that the crimes Julian Assange is suspected to
    have
    committed would likely be punishable in most other countries too, but
    might
    not be described as rape.

    She also underscores that the local authorities are making a lot of effort
    to
    register all cases that can be suspected rape. This is done at a very
    early
    stage of the process, so cases that later turn out to be some other sex
    crime,
    or no crime at all, are also included. And in addition to this, all
    individual acts
    are registered – not just the latest crime.

    "If a woman reports that she has been raped by her partner twice a
    week
    during the last year, this can result in hundreds of registrations of rape
    in the
    statistics, whereas the same case would only result in one registration of
    rape
    in other countries. It is impossible to compare statistics for reported
    crimes
    between different countries," says Klara Hradilova-Selin.

    She also points out that Swedish women are more likely today to report
    abuses to the police than they were before. While many victims previously
    did
    not dare to believe the system would support them, more do so now because
    attitudes have changed, says Klara Hradilova-Selin.

    "All in all there are many reasons why more rapes are reported to the
    police,
    but this does not mean that rape is more common in Sweden compared to
    other countries," she says.

    According to Klara Hradilova-Selin comparisons between countries based on
    large surveys of the general public, so-called victim surveys, instead
    show
    that the number of sexual crimes in Sweden is around the average mark in
    Europe.

    Mårten Schultz, associate professor at the faculty of law at Uppsala
    university,
    is critical of the way many media outlets have reported about the question
    of
    guilt – both whether Assange has actually committed any crimes, but
    also by
    questioning the credibility of the two women. These are all questions that
    no
    one can be certain about for the moment, says Schultz.

    "Some of the accusations against the women has been
    distasteful," Schultz
    told IPS.

    Schultz does not think that Swedish authorities have been particularly
    severe
    in the way they have treated Assange, as he was allowed to leave the
    country
    while waiting to be interviewed by the police.

    "I think the alleged crimes, as they have been portrayed, would have
    been
    dealt with in the same way in most western countries. To have sex with
    someone who is unwilling and also asleep would probably be filed as rape
    or
    another kind of sexual offence in most western countries," says
    Schultz.

    Schultz does not think there are political motives behind the case, but he
    also
    says that it is obvious that many people have used the case for political
    ends.
    "I do not know what happened. The women could be CIA agents, but I
    really
    don’t think so – in fact it is completely unlikely."

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