Brief submitted to the meeting of MPs of the Federal Parliament, at Parliament House, Canberra (March 2011), discussing extradition aspects in the Swedish case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
by Jennifer Robinson
1. I am writing to you to provide a briefing for the meeting of members of Federal Parliament on Wednesday 2 March 2011 regarding the case against Julian Assange. This briefing note sets out the timeline of events and the human rights concerns that we have raised in relation to Julian’s case in Sweden.
2. Julian is facing extradition to Sweden pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). He is currently electronically tagged and held under virtual house arrest, having spent nine days in solitary confinement in a London prison for a crime that he has not been charged with and in relation to allegations that he emphatically denies.
3. It is mutually concerning that an Australian citizen like Julian has been treated in ways which would not accord with the standards of Australian law or indeed international law. As I set out in this note, if he is extradited to Sweden, he will be held incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and without bail for several months and then tried in secret on allegations which are weak and which would not constitute a crime in Australia or in the UK. In such event, it can be predicted that Australians will be outraged and that considerable damage will eventuate in respect of relations between Australia and Sweden.
4. It is hoped that this briefing note will act as a resource for concerned Australian MPs to raise questions and to take action on Julian’s behalf.
Timeline of Events and Overview of Concerns
5. Julian had travelled to Sweden in August last year for the purposes of giving public lectures about his work on Afghanistan and in order to seek protection for WikiLeaks from the strong free speech and publication protections under Swedish law in advance of the Iraq War Logs, the publication of Iraq war military reports, and “Cablegate”, the publication of US diplomatic cables. The allegations against Julian were made to police on 20 August 2010.
6. That same day, the initial Prosecutor, Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand, unlawfully told the press that Julian was wanted for rape (reported in the tabloid Expressen) before he himself had been informed. Julian first learned of the allegations when he read it in the papers. In providing this information to the press the Prosecutor contravened Swedish privacy and secrecy law, which protects the confidentiality of preliminary criminal investigations and is supposed to protect those being investigated from adverse and prejudicial media coverage. A complaint was made about the Prosecutor’s illegal act to the Judicial Ombudsman but no action is being taken. As a result of this illegal act, Julian discovered in the press that he was ‘wanted for double rape’. Within hours there were millions of website hits for “Assange” and “rape”, causing irreparable and incalculable damage to his reputation. The illegality of the Prosecutor’s actions was confirmed by our expert evidence in the extradition proceedings here in London, as was the fact that no remedy exists in Swedish law for the breach.
7. The next day, Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm, Eva Finne, threw out the rape charge after reviewing the police file and the statements of the two women. The investigation continued on lesser allegations of harassment only. Julian volunteered himself for interview on 30 August 2010 in relation to this ongoing investigation. Julian sought an undertaking from the police that his testimony would not be provided to the press. This undertaking was violated: his police interview turned up in the tabloid Expressen the very next day. Again, Julian has no remedy against this breach of privacy and the continued disclosures by police have continued to fuel prejudicial media coverage.
8. An appeal was brought against Ms Finne’s decision to drop the rape charges by a lawyer acting for the complainants, Mr Claes Borgstrom. Mr Borgstrom is a Social Democrat politician who was, at that time, campaigning for election in the election to be held the following month (September 2010) and whose political platform and reputation is closely associated with sexual offence law reform. The Prosecutor, Ms Ny, granted the appeal on 1 September 2010 and the rape investigation was reinstituted. Julian was not informed of this appeal or provided the opportunity to make any submissions.
9. The Prosecution continued to provide information about the preliminary investigation to the press. Expressen applied for access to the police file on 1 September and this was granted: redacted versions of Julian’s statement and emails between the police and prosecutor were provided to the press shortly thereafter. We were only alerted to this on 21 January 2010, some four months later, when this same material was disclosed by the Prosecutor to Mr Hurtig and passed to us. It is noteworthy that Mr Hurtig had applied for disclosure of the police file in September and November 2010. Both requests for disclosure were denied by the Prosecutor, Ms Ny, despite the fact that some of this material had already been provided to the press.
10. Julian remained in Sweden for approximately FIVE weeks to answer the allegations against him. Through his lawyer Mr Hurtig, proactive attempts were made to arrange interview and to seek permission to leave the country. For example, Julian offered himself for interview on 15 September but this was rejected by the prosecutor because the relevant police officer was sick.
11. An interview was finally proposed on 22 September (more than three weeks after Ms Ny had begun the investigation) for 28 September. Mr Hurtig was unable to contact Julian to communicate this request. It is important to note here that Julian was, at that time, difficult to contact. He was maintaining a low profile because of threats to his security and increasing pressure from the US in advance of the two largest disclosures of US classified documents in history: the Pentagon had just announced a team of 120 people dedicated to “taking action” against WikiLeaks. Before Mr Hurtig was able to contact Julian he had already left Sweden for Berlin for WikiLeaks meetings associated, having been told on 15 September that Ms Ny had no objection to him leaving the country. He did not flee the country to avoid interrogation, as has been suggested by the Prosecution, but instead had left for a pre-arranged business meeting with Der Spiegel - one of his media partners in Cablegate, on the understanding that there was no impediment to him leaving the country.
12. Julian telephoned Mr Hurtig from Berlin on 29 September to inform him that his luggage had gone missing on his Stockholm-Berlin flight and that it was now presumed to have been stolen since the airline had not been able to locate and return it. He called to instruct Mr Hurtig to take legal action. It was then he was informed of Ms Ny’s intention to interrogate him. Julian offered to return to Sweden on 9-10 October for interrogation. This date was rejected as being ‘too far away’.
13. During October and November, Julian was in London working on the Iraq War Log release and preparing for Cablegate with media partners, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais and The New York Times. He also travelled to Switzerland to present at a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting. During this period, we offered that Julian be interviewed via telephone or video-link from London on the condition that the Prosecutor provide him further information about the allegations and potential charges. We offered his voluntary co-operation, through his Swedish lawyer Mr Hurtig, and suggested the use of the Mutual Legal Assistance scheme between Sweden and the United Kingdom. These offers were rejected.
14. In the meantime, I wrote to the UK police on 2 November 2010 and informed them that we acted for Julian and that he could be contacted through us for the purposes of any legal proceedings. This is significant: throughout this period Julian had continually indicated his willingness to co-operate with the authorities by offering alternative means of interview to the Swedish and by reporting his presence in the UK to the local police. The widely reported suggestion he was in hiding from justice is simply false.
15. After our voluntary offers of co-operation were rejected, the arrest warrant in Sweden was granted on 18 November 2010. Ms Ny, the Prosecutor, sought an arrest order to have Julian held incommunicado pending potential trial. These pre-trial detention conditions in Sweden have been heavily criticised by the European Council and by the United Nations, in particular, for the treatment of foreigners.
16. Just before the hearing on 18 November Mr Hurtig was, for the first time, provided a description of the allegations against Julian and provided copies of parts of the police file. At that time he was also shown more than 100 text messages between the two complainants and their friends, which contained important evidence about the allegations and the women’s motives. For example, the second complainant had been texting her friends in between sexual encounters with Julian over the course of the evening in question and states that she was “half-asleep” at the relevant time at which the arrest warrant asserts she was “asleep”: a very important factual error in the warrant which undermines the entire case. Further, the women speak of getting “revenge”, making money from the allegations and ruining Julian’s reputation by going to the press. However, the prosecutor refused to allow Mr Hurtig to take copies or to even take notes from this important evidence.
17. Mr Hurtig has made numerous requests for further disclosure under Swedish Criminal Procedure Code (Chapter 23.18), but these have been denied. In correspondence with the Australian Embassy in Stockholm, Ms Ny justifies her position in refusing to disclose this important material on the grounds that Julian has not yet been charged. This highlights the injustice of the EAW system: Julian has been held in solitary confinement and is now under effective house arrest without the Swedish Prosecutor having to show a reasonable case against him - or, indeed, any of the evidence against him to the British court.
18. Despite Mr Hurtig’s requests, Ms Ny had consistently refused to inform Julian regarding the specific charges to be brought against him before he was interviewed: interview by ambush is the preferred Swedish method. We had requested a specific description of the charges and the evidence in English as a condition precedent to Julian returning to Sweden to be interviewed. This, again, was refused. The first time document Julian received from the Prosecutor in English was the translation of the EAW provided by the English police at Kentish Town Police station in London when Julian voluntarily met with police to answer the warrant on 7 December 2010. This was the first time he had been informed in writing of the specific allegations and potential charges against him in English. I was with Julian at the police station and witnessed his shock and surprise at reading the allegations as described in the warrant.
19. It is noteworthy that the both the EAW and the Interpol red notice were issued for Julian by Sweden just before WikiLeaks began to publish Cablegate with their media partners and were executed just days after publication began. Had Julian returned to Sweden in October or November, we know (confirmed by the findings of the judge in London on 24 February 2011) that he would have been held incommunicado in prison pending trial and we may not have seen the release of Cablegate. Furthermore, his Swedish counsel, Mr Hurtig noted at the time that it was highly irregular for an international arrest warrant to be sought in relation to allegations of this kind.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, lawyer Jennifer Robinson, and Kristin Hrafnsson, approaching the Royal Courts in London at the extradition hearing
20. The Swedish prosecutor has failed to disclose any materials to Julian in English (the language he understands), which is her obligation under the European Convention of Human Rights. We have since been provided certain excerpts of the police file in Swedish and translation costs now exceed £20,000 (AUD$32,000) as a result of the Prosecutor’s failure to meet her human rights obligations in this regard. Furthermore, she has failed to disclose relevant exculpatory evidence that tends to demonstrate Julian’s innocence.
21. The Prosecutor has apparently failed to consider and disclose exculpatory evidence in her investigation, as is her duty as prosecutor.
- (1) First, it is clear that the text messages (approximately 100 of them) between the two complainants and their friends cast doubt on the allegations and contradict the specific factual allegations in the EAW that form the basis of his arrest - though we are unable to properly assess these because the Prosecutor refuses to disclose them to Julian.
- (2) Second, it has subsequently come to light that the first complainant, Ms A, has been deleting important evidence (i.e. tweets which demonstrated that she had been enjoying Julian’s company after the alleged assault). It is not clear whether this evidence has been considered because, despite the fact it was provided to the Prosecution by Mr Rudling, it does not form part of the police file disclosed to us.
- (3) Third, the Prosecutor has not contacted several potential witnesses who spent time with Mr Assange and the first complainant, Ms A, who know them both and can attest to their friendly relations in the days after the alleged assault.
22. The parts of the police file disclosed to the defence on 18 November 2010 (translated at significant cost to Julian) demonstrate that police have acted improperly and in breach of proper procedures in investigating sexual offence allegations.
- (1) First, it is clear that the women met together before making the allegations and had discussed the evidence at length, thereby contaminating their evidence.
- (2) Second, it has since come to light that the policewoman who had interviewed both women and initially reported the alleged rape to the Prosecutor was a friend of the first complainant, Ms A, and had also run for election for the Social Democrats (the same party for which Ms A and her lawyer, Mr Borgstrom, have stood for election) .
- (3) Third, both women were interviewed only briefly over the telephone and their interrogation is in summary form only. Indeed, the second complainant’s interview summary is not even signed or approved by her (she was upset at hearing Julian had was wanted for rape and her friend’s later interview to the police states that she felt “railroaded” into making the complaint). This breaches police procedure: interviews with witnesses in sexual offence cases must be recorded in full (video or tape recorded) because the initial interview is important evidence at trial. It is notable that all of the Prosecution witnesses interviews are recorded in summary format so it is impossible to know what the police asked and what their precise answers were in response. Only the interviews with Mr Assange and his friendly witnesses were recorded in full. These irregularities in police procedure will cause evidential problems in any trial, particularly if the reliability of the complainants’ testimony is in question.
23. As to the strength of the evidence that founds the basis for the warrant, a number of observations can be made. First, evidence at the extradition hearing in London brought to light that not one, but two well-regarded prosecutors in Stockholm do not believe there to be sufficient evidence to found a prosecution. Eva Finne dropped the rape investigation in August but was overruled on appeal. Ms Ny’s own deputy, Prosecutor Erika Lejnefors, had told Mr Hurtig in November that the case would likely be dropped because it was so weak. Nevertheless, an international arrest warrant was sought for Julian’s arrest. Second, expert evidence from the most respected criminal lawyer in England, Professor Andrew Ashworth of Oxford University, concludes that the facts as alleged in the EAW and the police statements of the two women would not constitute rape or any other crime in England.
24. Further, Julian has suffered immense adverse prejudicial media coverage in Sweden, fuelled both by the disclosure of police material to the press by the Prosecution and by the highly prejudicial media statements of the lawyer of the two complainants and funded by the Swedish government, Mr Borgstrom. Mr Borgstrom has called Julian a “coward” for not returning to Sweden and has alleged that his refusal to return is indicative of his guilt.
25. The Prime Minister of Sweden intervened in the case by making highly prejudicial and pejorative remarks in the Swedish press following the extradition proceedings in London on 7 and 8 February 2011. The Prime Minister told the press that Julian has been indicted and is being prosecuted for rape. This is not correct - Julian has not yet been charged, the preliminary investigation has not yet been concluded and no decision has been made to prosecute. The Prime Minister’s comments are inappropriate given his political position (he had, just weeks earlier, refused to comment on Julian’s case on the grounds it was a matter for the courts and not for politicians) and given that a key question being determined by the British court is whether the warrant is for questioning or for prosecution. The Prime Minister made pejorative remarks regarding Julian’s legal defence, including the incorrect suggestion that Julian’s defence is to deem women’s rights “of little value”. This was subsequently reported as Julian and his defence team “trying to limit the right for women to take a claimed sexual abuse to court”. This clearly and unfairly mischaracterises Julian’s defence case and has led to him being portrayed as an enemy of Sweden and of women’s rights in the Swedish press.
26. Other politicians have followed the Prime Minister in attacking Julian and his defence. For example, the Chancellor of Justice, Anna Skarhed, has described the defence as “shocking”. The Chancellor of Justice then states that the defence has accused the Swedish legal system of being “corrupt”: but anyone who has read our submissions or followed court proceedings will know this is simply not true. Our skeleton arguments and all of the case evidence filed with the court is available on our website: http://www.fsilaw.com/news-media/news/28-julian-assange-case-papers/.
27. Given the nature of the press coverage in Sweden, we have grave concerns as to whether Julian will receive a fair trial: he will be tried in secret, behind closed doors, by a judge and three lay judges (jurors) who are appointed by political parties. The Swedish press does not seem at all concerned with the need for suspects to be presumed innocent and it is difficult to see how jurors could remain unaffected by this media coverage.
Putting in order the legal puzzle of the case at the Royal Court in London
28. In summary, our concerns regarding the case in Sweden to date include:
• the unlawful and prejudicial disclosures by police and the prosecution regarding ongoing criminal investigations;
• the failure to disclose details of the allegations and the evidence in English;
• the breaches of police procedures in the investigation of the allegations;
• the apparent failure of the Prosecutor to consider exculpatory evidence;
• the disproportionate behaviour of the Prosecutor in refusing voluntary offers for co-operation and refusing to make use of alternative methods for interviewing Julian - insisting instead on an international warrant which unduly restricts his liberty;
• the pre-trial detention conditions sought by the Prosecutor;
• the prospect of a secret trial; and
• the adverse and prejudicial media coverage, fuelled by the state-funded lawyer for the complainants and the country’s most senior politicians, including the Prime Minister.
Decision to grant extradition - 24 February 2011
29. On 24 February 2011, District Judge Riddle ordered that Julian be extradited to Sweden. It must be noted that this is simply the initial ruling on the validity of a EAW and did not deal with the substance of the allegations against Julian, which he has always firmly denied. The judgment concerns whether it is technically valid for a EAW to be used in this manner. The strength or weakness of the allegations, and even their detail, cannot be heard in a EAW case. This is one of the central complaints made by law reformers about the EAW process - a civil liberties disaster and the subject of investigation and campaigns by human rights groups such as Fair Trials International.
30. It must be remembered that under the EAW system, the British courts are bound to regard the prosecutors of no less than 26 countries, including Poland and Romania – as perfect. The Extradition Act 2003 allows European countries to deem prosecutors and even policemen "as judicial authorities" (a contradiction in terms, because they are neither independent nor impartial) and to demand return of their suspects from the UK so long as they tick the right box on the EAW form. In Julian's case, for example, they ticked "rape" and the court cannot dispute that the allegation is of rape, even though the leading authority on sexual offences, the Oxford Professor Andrew Ashworth, disputes this characterisation. There can be no questioning on the merits of the charges – in 2003 parliament abolished the traditional right of a suspect to require foreign governments to show a prima facie case before dragging them off to unfair trials. It also took away the historic right of individuals facing extradition to show that the case against them was unfounded.
31. Judge Riddle - a hostile judge - made a number of important factual findings. Judge Riddle ordered Julian’s extradition to Sweden despite the fact that he agreed that:
• upon return to Sweden Julian will be held incommunicado pending trial because Sweden has no system of bail; and
• Julian will be subjected to a secret trial, which is anathema to Australian and British traditions of open justice and an outrage given the widespread dissemination of the allegations against him by the Swedish authorities.
32. The decision to extradite Julian is not final, nor (as has been misreported) does it "determine his fate". Julian is permitted an appeal as of right by the 2003 Extradition Act. Thereafter, points of law may, with permission, be appealed to the Supreme Court. [Supreme Court Ruling, 30 May 2012]
33. The appeal to the High Court was filed today in London. The dates for this appeal are not yet available but we anticipate it will be heard sometime between April and June
34. It is our position that the EAW system should not simply be used as a rubber stamp, but instead ought to be used to improve the quality of justice throughout Europe. Extradition ought to be refused when the trial in prospect is likely to be unfair judged according to fundamental fair trial principles because only then can things improve and human rights blind spots be eradicated. If the British courts declare that open justice is the only possible justice by refusing to extradite Julian to Sweden, this would very likely have the result that Sweden would change its unacceptable policy.
Action points for Australian MPs
35. Julian remains willing to co-operate with the Swedish investigations, provided that certain guarantees are provided in respect of the human rights concerns raised above. We would encourage Australian MPs who are concerned at Julian’s treatment to raise the following concerns.
36. First, to ask our government to seek guarantees from both the Swedish and British governments that Julian will not be extradited to the United States to face prosecution in relation to WikiLeaks publications. Any such prosecution would violate the right to free speech and the protections of the First Amendment. His concern about being extradited to the US is justified in light of:
• US Attorney-General Eric Holder’s ongoing criminal investigation;
• recent subpoenas of Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks, their associates and supporters, which proves an ongoing federal criminal investigation in Virginia and demonstrates intent to prosecute; and
• the recent statement by US Ambassador to the UK to the BBC that the US is waiting to see how things work out in the British courts.
37. Second, demands must be made of the Swedish authorities to ensure that, if Julian returns to Sweden, that his human rights will be protected. These include:
• The evidence in the case be disclosed to him in English, as is Sweden’s obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights. Full disclosure of the police file, including the exculpatory evidence such as the text messages, must be provided.
This request - made in November when an international arrest warrant was being threatened and extended by us to Mr Hurtig as condition precedent to Julian returning/being interviewed - has still not been complied with. Translation costs have exceeded £20,000 because of Sweden’s failure to meet their human rights obligations in this regard. It has also delayed our work and made our legal defence more difficult.
• A guarantee be provided that he will not be held incommunicado or in custody pending any trial.
Again, this was one of our concerns in October and November when Ms Ny requested that he return to Sweden - a concern that was validated on 18 November when Ms Ny sought an order for arrest that would have seen Julian held incommunicado pending trial. These pre-trial conditions have been criticised by international human rights bodies. Aside from human rights concerns, as noted above, Julian was at that time preparing for the release of the Iraq War Logs (23 October 2010) and Cablegate (28 November 2010). Had he returned to Sweden and been held incommunicado in pre-trial detention, these important and internationally significant WikiLeaks releases would have been jeopardised.
• A guarantee be provided that his trial be heard in public: the press and public should be permitted entry to the Court. Other measures, similar to those deployed in Australian courts, can be taken to protect the women in giving their testimony.
• A guarantee be provided that he will not be extradited to the United States, but instead will be allowed to travel back to Australia.
In considering the risk of extradition to the US from Sweden, it must be recalled that Sweden has a history of complying with US requests to hand over persons of interest notwithstanding potential human rights concerns - international bodies have recently found Sweden liable for handing asylum seekers over to the CIA for torture [see Mohammed Alzery v. Sweden (Communication No. 1416/2005, UN Human Rights Committee) and Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil Agiza v. Sweden (Communication No. 233/2003, UN Committee Against Torture, Decision of 24 May 2005 (CAT/C/34/D/233/2003)].
Further, WikiLeaks cables released last December demonstrate that intelligence sharing and co-operation between Sweden and the US is far deeper than anyone had realised, calling into question Sweden’s perceived neutrality, and the extent of this cooperation had been hidden from the Swedish Parliament and the Swedish people.