In Depth

Julian Assange: why Sweden has reopened investigation

Lawmakers in Stockholm say rape allegations against the WikiLeaks founder are sufficient to facilitate his extradition for trial in Sweden

Swedish authorities have confirmed that they have reopened an investigation into the allegations of rape made against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

During a press conference on Monday, deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson announced the decision to reopen the case and claimed that the circumstances “allowed for an extradition to Sweden from Britain”, The Guardian reports.

“After reviewing the preliminary investigation carried out so far, I find that there still exist grounds for Julian Assange to be suspected on probable cause of the charge of rape,” Persson said. “It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required.”

The 47-year-old, who denies the Swedish allegations, is currently in London's Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012. After 2,487 days camped at Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition, his asylum was withdrawn and he was hauled out by Metropolitan Police officers in April.

Two years ago Swedish prosecutors decided to drop the rape investigation, which relates to an incident in 2010, saying they felt “unable to take the case forward while Assange remained holed up inside the embassy”, reports the BBC.

But during Monday’s conference, Persson added: “Now that he has left Ecuador's embassy, the conditions in the case have changed and... the conditions are in place once again to pursue the case.”

WikiLeaks has said reopening the investigation would give Assange a chance to clear his name.

“Since Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019 there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, said in a statement. “Its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name.”

Persson confirmed that a European Arrest Warrant would now be issued over the rape allegations - the second concurrent arrest warrant issued for Assange.

The other was issued by the US, where he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, in relation to his collaboration with army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The offence carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Assange has voiced fears that his extradition to the US could also lead to further “charges relating to WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables”, says The Guardian.

Addressing the Commons on Thursday, Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott questioned the US government's motivation for targeting Assange. She said: “Julian Assange is not being pursued to protect US national security. He is being pursued because he has exposed wrongdoing by US administrations.”

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale says the interventions by Abbott and Corbyn mean “the battle over Assange's future will now be as much political as it is legal”.

Leading free speech campaigners have also argued that the indictment that will form the basis of Assange’s extradition is a direct assault on fundamental press freedoms and could have a devastating effect on whistleblowing journalism.

Harvard University law professor Yochai Benkler told The Guardian that Assange’s charge sheet was “vastly over-broad and could have a significant, chilling effect”.

Uncertainty remains over whether courts in the UK will approve the extradition. Like most extradition treaties, that between the US and the UK excludes “political offences”.

“There’s no clear definition of that term, but it is known to cover crimes like treason, espionage and sedition, as well as offences that are directed in some way against the power of the state,” reports Politico.

John Bellinger, the US State Department’s legal adviser under President George W. Bush, told the news site that British courts tend to have a broader view of what constitutes political offences.

But “in this case, it may be - in order to get Assange extradited to the US - just easier to focus on things the US and UK governments can agree on, even if it means leaving some other things off the table”, Bellinger added.

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