Julian Assange has been in the media spotlight since he founded Wikileaks in 2006. It is also obvious that he is in the crosshairs of the US; with the publication of the Afghan war diary and the Iraq war logs as well as US state department diplomatic cables, he is unlikely to be invited for dinner in the West Wing any time soon.
Now the man who is seemingly able to access a boundless trove of priceless information has imprisoned himself in a tiny South American embassy near the heart of London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden over accusations of rape. Accusations which he and many of his supporters claim are politically motivated; sparking a diplomatic feud spanning three continents.
While most of us welcome the publication of information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, most are also disgusted by the idea of sexual assault.
The Mail on Sunday, with access to the witness statements, highlighted the fact that both of the charges brought against Mr Assange are dubious.
The first charge because Mr Assange was staying in the one bedroom apartment of Woman A when they had consensual sex. However the condom split, and the woman in question has accused Mr Assange of corrupting the condom prior to having sex. Despite this accusation, the woman invited Assange to attend a Crayfish party as her date two days later, showing no sign of distrusting Assange.
Woman B – with whom Mr Assange had sex with four days later while he was still staying in the apartment of Woman A – was fascinated by, and actively sought to meet the Wikileaks founder. It was established that Mr Assange and Woman B had sex prior to the alleged crime, however, on the morning of the alleged crime, Assange had shown what George Galloway described as ‘bad sexual etiquette’ by putting the moves on while she slept.
Woman B had only consented to sex provided he wore a condom, which, on this occasion, he didn’t. Despite this incident, the victim still felt comfortable going to buy food for Mr Assange’s breakfast. It was only when Woman A and Woman B found out that Mr Assange had sexual relations with both of them in overlapping time periods that they decided to go to the police to in order to get Assange tested for sexually transmitted infections. When he refused, it was decided to bring charges against him.
The first time the cases were taken to court, the senior prosecutor stated that ‘it is not that she didn’t believe it, but that she didn’t feel it was a crime’. In spite of this, the lawyer of the prosecution went on to demand the case be reopened, and after the appeal the charges were upheld.
Here we are now, two years on from the initial accusations and Julian Assange does now face extradition to Sweden after losing all stages of his appeal, with the supreme court of Britain ruling that the accusations do amount to rape and that there is a case to answer. In order to avoid this impending fate Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Ecuador‘s record of press freedom has been described by the Huffington Post as one of the worst in the Americas, therefore it is seemingly a strange place to seek refuge for the man who championed the mass release of state secrets. However, there are many possible reasons why Assange would choose Ecuador.
The most prominent is likely to be its anti-US stance, the government have, for a long time, disagreed with the actions of US oil companies who destroy much of the ecology in the Ecuadorian rainforests, which serves as a divide between the two countries and is only deepened by very their different approaches to governance. Ecuador was also a country which seemed to react to the Wikileaks fiasco favourably.
It was, according to France 24, the only country to expel a diplomat based on the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. It was also the country which probably bore most in the memory of Assange; as for a brief period in 2010 he was offered refuge there to avoid the US investigation into Wikileaks. Because of this, this tiny South American country now finds itself in an extremely precarious diplomatic position.
There are serious indications that the United States could threaten the Australian’s security, integrity and even his life.
Assange fears that on his return to Sweden he would face extradition to the US, where he could receive the death penalty because of his involvement in Wikileaks. This argument is fundamentally flawed, as according to its constitution, Sweden will not deport anyone who may face the death penalty. This however, has not been enough to deter the Ecuadorian government from granting political asylum.
The Independent reported that Ecuador have granted asylum because they believe there are ‘serious indications that the United States could threaten the Australian’s security, integrity and even his life.’ This statement, because of Sweden’s constitutional arrangements, implies Ecuador believe there is a possibility of Assange being assassinated by the US.
Although asylum has been granted, Julian Assange is still not free. The Ecuadorian Embassy encompasses only half of the bottom floor of a building. The British government have stated that Mr Assange will never be allowed safe passage out of the embassy, after briefly threatening to revoke its diplomatic status. This would have allowed the authorities to go in and arrest Assange, but the threat was quickly retracted as it would have exposed British embassies around the world to the possibility of the same fate, as well as fuelling the escalation of sour relations between many Latin American countries and Britain.
This threat, although played down by the British authorities, has led to anger in South and Central America and has prompted a meeting of 23 states to discuss the issue in Washington DC this week. The preferred course of action is now to surround the embassy with police officers, cutting off any means of escape for Assange.
Many commentators are suggesting this is a set up. The ex-British ambassador to Uzbekistan, in an interview on Newsnight, claimed that whistle-blowers are often charged with unrelated crimes immediately after blowing the whistle. He offered four examples of people he knew personally who had been charged with crimes such as sexual coercion and shoplifting after leaking classified information, and seemed confident that this is happening to Assange.
George Galloway, the Respect Party MP for Bradford West has controversially come out in support of Assange, claiming these accusations are part of a set up. It is hard to ignore the strange circumstances surrounding the accusations, especially as they came just a few weeks after the release of classified war documents, at the height of American anger.
Regardless of this, in pursuit of justice, Assange should face trial over the accusations. The trouble is that sexual assault, especially under these circumstances, is a hard crime to prove. When all parties openly admit to consensual sex, DNA evidence is rendered useless and a trial would be mainly based upon the testimony of the victims and the accused. A situation, in which if the accounts differ, it is almost impossible to establish the truth.
The fact that two women have accused Assange of sexual assault makes his defence harder. Yet Assange’s defence would surely be that this is slander, and if no other women come forward it is hard for the prosecution to convince the jury that this is in his character – supporting his defence.
This trial never came to fruition though, as Assange’s legal team have said he would return to face the charges in Sweden if assurances were offered that he would not be extradited to the US on Wikileaks charges.
Sweden has not offered any such assurances though, which suggests extradition is on their minds. We will probably never know if there is any truth behind the accusations, and will be forever in the dark over the true extent of the political plotting behind this situation. But it is worth remembering that there is more going on than the public will ever be made aware of.