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The British Foreign Secretary William Hague was refreshingly clear when he addressed Ecuador’s decision to grant Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Assange asylum to protect him from being extradited to Sweden. He expressed his disappointment at the decision and summarized the case succinctly: ” It is important to understand that this is not about Mr Assange’s activities at Wikileaks or the attitude of the United States of America. He is wanted in Sweden to answer allegations of serious sexual offences.”
The last sentence is important but the fact it expresses seems to have been forgotten by most people, including the Government of Ecuador. The reason why Swedish authorities has asked that Mr. Assange should be extradited has nothing to do with Wikileaks or the work Mr. Assange has done for Wikileaks. In fact, before Wikileaks became a megaphone for Mr. Assange’s personal legal problems I think that most Swedish people, and especially so Swedish media, were very favorable towards the Wikileaks project.
During Mr. Assange’s visit to Sweden – a visit that apparently came about because of the solid reputation of Sweden’s freedom of speech law that Wikileaks had taken an interest in – events occurred that no one except of Mr. Assange and the two women that subsequently accused him of criminal activities can know anything about. What we do know, however, is that the allegations of one of the women – that Mr. Assange had sex with her when she was asleep without her consent – could be characterized as rape under Swedish criminal law. Yes, this falls under the section of rape in the Swedish Criminal Code. From what I understand Swedish criminal law does not differ in this definition of rape from most other countries in civilized legal orders.
These are the allegations, they are serious and they are treated seriously. Rape allegations are always treated seriously, or at least they should be. Sweden has used the European Arrest Warrent (EAW) to bring alleged rapists to the Swedish legal system most if not all years since the EAW came into force and it did the same in this case after Mr. Assange decided he did not want to co-operate fully with the investigation. He is at this time only wanted for questioning on the allegations. Whether the allegations are true is a different story. So is the Wikileaks project and the work Mr. Assange has carried out as a spokesperson for that project. However, as a result of Mr. Assange’s legal strategy in the rape case, the two will now forever be intertwined.
Will Mr. Assange be extradited from Sweden to stand trial in the U.S. if the extradition process goes through as it is supposed to? That is a question no one can answer today. There is no formal request from the U.S. and before there is a formal request it is impossible to assess what the result of such a request would be. (Sweden would never extradite someone that risks the death penalty, for instance.) Also, the construction of the EAW does not allow for Sweden to extradite Mr. Assange to the U.S. without the approval of the U.K. The power to decide over such a request from the U.S. would still be in the hands of the British authorities. Just as it has been for the last years.
What kind of legal system will Mr. Assange face if he is brought here? Sweden’s legal system, as a whole, is solid, fair, and just. But no legal systems are perfect. In fact Sweden is at this very moment in the process of a serious debate on the quality of the legal process, brought about by trustworthy accusations that Sweden’s most well-known serial killer – Thomas Quick – might not be a killer at all, but simply a liar. The result of this debate will hopefully make Sweden an even stronger legal system than it is today.
The upshot is this: Like all legal orders Sweden has its flaws, but it is still, in the words of Foreign Secretary Hague, ” a country with the highest standards of law and where [Assange’s] rights are guaranteed”. You don’t have to take my word, or even the word of Foreign Secretary Hague, on this. According to The World Justice Organization’s Rule of Law Index Sweden ranks among the most robust legal orders in the world, with the lowest levels of corruption and the highest degree of protection of fundamental rights. In fact according to this survey Sweden should probably be awarded the title Rule of Law Champion of the World. Ecuador, by contrast, is not included in the index.