Analysis: Assange has nothing to fear from justice delivered in Sweden
JULIAN Assange’s bizarre bid for political asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London has claimed headlines everywhere, but it has obscured an important truth: last month’s decision by the UK Supreme Court that Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual crimes was the only possible outcome.
The alternative – to reject the European arrest warrant issued by Swedish authorities – would have signalled distrust of Sweden’s legal system, which would have been unfair.
Whatever one’s sentiments about Assange and the claims he has made in trying to secure asylum in Ecuador, let us be very clear: Sweden is a Rechtstaat – a state governed by the rule of law – in every sense. The Swedish court system is characterised by foreseeability, fairness, humanism, and high professional quality. These are facts.
When I travel abroad and meet lawyers interested in the Assange case, I am asked the most incredible questions about Sweden’s legal system. Is it true that men are convicted of rape in Sweden on the sole basis of a woman’s allegations? Is it rape in Sweden when a condom breaks? Is it correct that Swedish judges contact the US justice department before passing judgment in politically sensitive cases?
The list goes on. Did the Swedish prosecutor-general meet representatives of the US embassy before the European arrest warrant in the Assange case was issued? Is it true that official Sweden is steeped in feminist ideology? Will the Swedish police put Assange on a plane to Guantánamo Bay as soon as he arrives? The answer to all of these questions is “no”.
Assange came to Sweden in 2010 as a spokesman for Wikileaks. Ironically, he came to investigate whether Wikileaks could benefit from the unique protection afforded to information under our constitutional free-speech guarantees.
During his stay, two events occurred that led to accusations against him for sexual assault of two women. Before Assange was interrogated, he left the country. He then refused to return to Sweden, starting an almost two-year process to extradite him.
The Supreme Court decision means only that Assange will be transferred to Sweden for interrogation. It does not mean he will be tried, or even charged. What we do know is that he will receive fair treatment by Swedish legal institutions. And, yes, their respect for the rule of law extends to accusations of sexual offences.
Similar criticisms of the Swedish legal system are based largely on myths and misconceptions. I will not be sentenced for rape if my condom breaks during a sexual act. But, as in many other countries, I can be convicted of rape if I have sex with a sleeping or unconscious person.
The Swedish judges who may preside if Assange is brought to trial will not take orders from any government agencies or be influenced by pressure from elsewhere.
And no, the Swedish police did not place Assange on a CIA-chartered plane as soon as he arrived at Stockholm airport. They, like all other Swedish authorities, discharged their duties according to the law.
• Mårten Schultz is professor of law at Stockholm University.
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