Those involved in progressive politics have, typically, been horrified at the level of rape and sexual crime against women that goes unpunished. In most Western countries, there has been a rolling campaign for a number of years to tighten up the law and procedure in rape cases, to address the concern that sexual offenders are “getting away with it”.
Under ordinary circumstances, the response of most people involved with centre Left politics to a serious allegation of sexual assault is to call for the crime to be investigated fully, and for prosecutions to be brought, if appropriate.
So, what circumstances might induce a leading freedom of expression group, like Index on Censorship, to attack an investigation into a sexual assault in the strongest and most intemperate terms imaginable?
The story starts with Julian Assange, of Wikileaks. During the course of his time in Sweden, he had some form of sexual contact with two women, who were most unhappy with the experience, and complained about it to the police. Assange’s supporters claim that these claims are “smears” and part of a plot against him. It is notable that one of the complainants was his spokeswoman, and is an activist with the centre-Left Swedish Social Democratic Party.
The Swedish Prosecutor has now issued an arrest warrant on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.
False allegations of rape and sexual assault are made, from time to time. It is important that any criminal justice process resulting from those allegations tests complaints properly. However, that is not what Index on Censorship is calling for.
Assange has hired Mark Stephens. Mark Stephens is a trustee of Index on Censorship. Together with Index on Censorship Chief Executive, John Kampfner, they have issued the following press release in the name of Index on Censorship:
Index on Censorship
A Swedish prosecutor today requested that Julian Assange, founder of the Wikileaks whistleblower website, be detained for interrogation concerning a re-opened sexual assault investigation. The application could lead to an international arrest warrant.
Assange denies accusations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, which surfaced shortly after the website released the Afghanistan War Logs, containing thousands of leaked US military incident reports.
Index on Censorship trustee Mark Stephens, who is Assange’s lawyer, commented: “The behaviour of the investigators has been bizarre. I’ve never seen anything like it in 30 years of legal practice. We haven’t been able to answer the specifics of the smear because the investigators won’t detail the allegations and they haven’t responded to Mr Assange’s voluntary offers of interview.”
Index on Censorship chief executive John Kampfner said: “While we cannot comment on the specifics of the case, we are extremely concerned at the apparent conduct of the investigators. Anyone concerned about free speech and human rights will be alarmed at any suggestion that the allegations against Mr Assange are being manipulated for political purposes.”
Notes for Editors
Mark Stephens and John Kampfner are available for comment.
It is difficult to identify, from the press release, precisely why Stephens and Kampfner are so outraged on behalf of Assange. Mark Stevens says that he has “never seen anything like it in 30 years of legal practice”. That is completely unsurprising. His 18 page CV indicates no experience of either Swedish law or criminal law. He is an intellectual property lawyer.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, who is a prominent human rights lawyer, appears already to have been instructed for the defence, and is already making statements to the press. Here’s his angle:
‘Mr Assange has been the victim of utterly incompetent prosecutors who have severely damaged his rights – the rights that every person in Europe has granted to them under the European convention’, says leading international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
‘The Australian government should carpet the Swedish ambassador and make a formal protest against the treatment of Assange.’
‘Mr Assange may have been naïve but he is not a criminal’, said Robertson, suggesting that higher authorities such as the ECHR would always come to Assange’s aid.
‘In due course I predict that the European Court of Human Rights would uphold Assange’s position and order the Swedish government to compensate him. His lawyers should already be preparing for that eventuality.’
Robertson might be right. There was a certain amount of prevarication before the Swedish Prosecutor settled on the precise nature of the charge. Possibly, there have been breaches of Article 5 and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, let us take a step back for a second. Assange is the subject of very serious criminal charge. The rape and sexual assault charges are not a “smear”. Article 5 and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights arguments have nothing to do with the Article 10 right to Freedom of Expression. So, why – apart from Mark Stephens’ involvement – is Index on Censorship going into bat for Assange?
The suggestion – Index on Censorship doesn’t quite make the charge – is that the Swedish prosecutor is somehow involved in an international conspiracy to prevent the Wikileaks supremo from continuing to publish military records, and that the rape and sexual assault allegations are lies. Wicked lies, which inhibit freedom of expression.
There is some interesting background on the case here:
The investigation of the rape charge was then reopened by Marianne Ny, head of Sweden’s prosecution service. The two complainants are on record as stating that they were not alleging rape charges against Assange, and the latter charges were only reopened after they hired prominent lawyer Claes Borgstrom, also a powerful figure in the ruling Social Democrat Party. Ny is a prominent advocate of extending the crime of rape and sexual assault in wider areas of sexual behaviour, and the rape investigation was reopened after Borgstrom approached her personally.
We don’t know why the decision was made to upgrade the charges to rape. The accounts we have, generally, about this case are confused and partial. However, it is worth noting that rape in most modern jurisdictions often has a complex definition, in which a charge may turn on tricky questions of consent, and the defendant’s perception of consent. Categorising a sexual assault as rape may not be an easy or straightforward matter.
However, if this account is correct, it looks as if the case has been taken over by a very senior Swedish prosecutor, who takes a strict line on sexual offenses. That is a more plausible explanation than the suggestion that this is a conspiracy against freedom of expression, by shadowy anti-Assange forces.
I can understand why three middle aged men might entertain certain fraternal feelings about the case of another middle aged man, whose sexual activities while on tour have got him into hot water. Many men, in situations like this, may well find themselves thinking: “There but for the grace of God, go I”.
However, again, what has all this got to do with Index on Censorship?