Robert Harneis - TDO – (France) After seven years, the Swedish judicial authorities have announced that they are dropping the investigation against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange for rape. Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has confirmed that they are to revoke the arrest warrant against the journalist.
Julian Assange has been effectively a prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 where he fled, fearing that the Swedish prosecution for rape was merely a cover to enable him to be extradited to the United States for publishing thousands of documents leaked by American soldier Chelsea Manning. Assange had little doubt that if he was handed over to the Americans by the Swedish government he would have a poor chance of a fair trial. US Vice President Mike Spence said in April that arresting Assange would be ‘a priority’ and accused Assange of running a ‘hostile espionage service’.
The decision comes after pressure from the Ecuadorian government who have criticized the undue delay by the Swedish prosecutors. It also follows the release by the US government of Sergeant Chelsea Manning.
The case has been awkward for the British and Swedish governments who are not slow in criticizing others for breaches of human rights and mistreating journalists. The affair is also embarrassinglysimilar to the case of Cardinal Josefz Mindszenty who took refuge from the Communist authorities in the United States Embassy in Hungary from 1956 to 1971. It has been extremely expensive for the British government, with a 24-hour police guard around the embassy, to prevent Assange from escaping.
The heat is now on the British government who have refused to confirm or deny whether they have received an extradition request from the United States. The Metropolitan Police have only said that Assange could still be arrested for the lesser offence of jumping bail. They have indicated that the police guard will be reduced. Assange was free on bail when he took refuge with the Ecuadorians in 2012, which act was a breach of his bail conditions. The New York Times has claimed that the US authorities are reviewing the charges against the Australian journalist.
It remains to be seen whether the release of Chelsea Manning and the dropping of the charges by the Swedish authorities are part of a concerted effort by the Swedish, British and US governments to free themselves from a continuing and long standing embarrassment. They may have hoped that the Ecuadorian elections, held in February 2017,would bring to power Guillermo Lasso likely to force Assange to leave the embassy. However, he was defeated by Lenin Moreno who has continued with former President Correa’s policy of sheltering the WikiLeaks journalist.
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Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation, which he denies.
The decision comes after Assange’s Swedish lawyer filed a motion which demanded that the arrest warrant be lifted, after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that arresting the WikiLeaks co-founder would be a “priority.”
US authorities have been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010, when the site posted thousands of cables stolen by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
The publication of classified US military and diplomatic documents represents one of the biggest information leaks in American history.
Just days ago, Ecuador voiced concern over the “serious lack of progress” by Sweden in dealing with Assange, citing a “serious failure” by the prosecution to complete the inquiry into the alleged sexual assault.
One of Assange’s lawyers said earlier on Friday that closing the investigation or lifting the European arrest warrant would not necessarily mean he could easily leave for Ecuador, which has granted him asylum.
“The first thing one likely needs to do is seek guarantees from the British authorities that he won’t be seized in some other way,” Melinda Taylor told TT news agency.