The Swedish prosecution authority yet again closed a “preliminary investigation” into sexual allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
It was reopened after Assange was expelled from the Ecuador embassy, indicted by the United States government, and arrested and jailed at Belmarsh prison by British authorities.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson reacted, “Sweden has dropped its preliminary investigation into Mr. Assange for the third time after reopening it without any new evidence or information. Let us now focus on the threat Mr. Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”
Assange faces 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act and one charge of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. All stem from Assange’s work on the publication of documents that were disclosed by Chelsea Manning, who is in jail in Alexandria, Virginia, for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
The decision to drop the “investigation” a third time comes days after UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer disclosed a follow-up letter to Sweden from September that intensely criticized the Swedish prosecution authority over its handling of the case.
“Today’s collapse of Sweden’s Assange investigation was inevitable. Given its gross arbitrariness, there must now be a full investigation and accountability and compensation for the harm inflicted on Julian Assange,” Melzer declared.
In August 2010, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant based upon sexual allegations from two women. The statute of limitations for one of the allegations elapsed in 2015.
Melzer contends the Swedish prosecution “maintained and proactively disseminated an unqualified ‘rape suspect’ narrative against Mr. Assange, despite the cardinal principle of presumption of innocence, and despite the existence of contradicting and exculpatory evidence seriously questioning the credibility of that narrative.”
The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office presumably knew they would drop the investigation again. Yet, to preserve a “rape suspect” narrative for another day, they misled the press and announced there would be a briefing on November 19 on “investigative measures taken” and “new information.” That suggested authorities might be closer to charging Assange.
Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson told the press, “The injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events. Her statements have been coherent, extensive, and detailed.”
“However, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation,” Persson added.
To the extent that “evidence” has weakened, that is the fault of the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office. Melzer’s letter to Sweden meticulously documented what he described as “pervasive procedural procrastination.”
“Between 2010 and 2019, the preliminary investigation conducted against Mr. Assange in Sweden has been opened by one prosecutor, closed by another, re-opened and then closed again by a third, only to be re-opened by a fourth, without any decisive procedural progress being achieved for almost a decade,” Melzer wrote.
Over more than nine years, Assange was questioned twice. The Swedish prosecution collected statements from a number of alleged complainants and witnesses. There were several DNA-analyses completed. Yet, the prosecutor never pressed formal charges.
“In July 2019, one year before the final [expiration] of the applicable 10-year statute of limitation for the only remaining allegation against Mr. Assange, the Swedish prosecution claimed that its preliminary investigation still was not sufficiently advanced to allow the questioning of Mr. Assange.”
While Assange was living under political asylum in the Ecuador embassy in London, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office adamantly refused to question Assange through video link, despite the fact that such a procedure was covered by an agreement known as Mutual Legal Assistance.
The actions of the Swedish prosecution authority not only caused reputational harm and violated the due process rights of Assange, but as Melzer made clear, it impacted the rights of “AA” and “SW” to justice.
Even so, the harm is not over because the way in which the end of the investigation was announced perpetuates the “rape suspect” narrative that Melzer described. They did not say there was not enough evidence to prosecute Assange. Instead, they released a statement that justifies all of their actions over the past nine years by insisting there was sexual misconduct.
The public is to believe justice did not happen because Assange thwarted their efforts, despite the fact that the timeline of events calls that framing into question.
A “rape suspect” narrative cloud will hover over the United States’ prosecution of Assange. It will hang over proceedings during his extradition hearing. It will continue to undermine Assange’s ability to build solidarity among global citizens, particularly in the Western world.
This will forever be Sweden’s chief contribution to the effort to silence a publisher, who exposed war crimes, human rights abuses, and countless examples of corruption and misconduct by the United States.