What Philip Hammond ought to tell the Ecuadorian foreign minister about Assange

The Ecuadorian foreign minister wants to talk to Philip Hammond about Julian Assange - this is what our foreign minister should tell him.

The Ecuadorian foreign minister wants to talk to Philip Hammond about Julian Assange – this is what our foreign minister should tell him. 

In a very well attended press conference yesterday in the Ecuadorian embassy in Central London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange revealed that he would soon be leaving the place he has called home for more than two years.

At a cost of around £7m to the taxpayer, Assange has been self-imprisoned since avoiding extradition on account of allegations made against him involving a 26-year-old (known as SW) in Enköping and a 31-year-old (AA) in Stockholm.

However it was reported last night by the Telegraph that Assange appears to have muddled his reasons for leaving, suggesting law changes regarding extradition. In a comment that speaks volumes about Assange, it was assumed by him that recent changes in the law reflected a realisation that, in his own words, “abuses of my rights” had been carried out.

The Home Office has now clarified that changes in the law will not affect Assange since they are not retrospective.

While changes made in Parliament now mean that formal charges need to be made against a person “before their liberty is deprived from them”, this will not apply to Assange – his being wanted by Sweden, now in its fourth year, will still be pursued.

So on the plus side, Assange still is duty bound to clear his name before a court in Sweden; this has not changed. On the other hand it will mean his various supporters emerge again from the woodwork to wax lyrical about the various conspiracies that keep this man bound up.

We only have to remember back in 2012 when John Pilger, the Philosopher King of the conspiracy theorists, claimed to have found the evidence as to Sweden’s, and America’s, grand plan. He mentioned one cable that supposedly calls into question Sweden’s “neutrality” that reveals its military and intelligence co-operation with NATO.

This link alone, without reference to its strength or what it actually means, was enough for Pilger to assume the worst: Assange would be tried in Sweden, sent immediately packing to the US where their intelligence agencies would wreak untold destruction over the leaker’s liberty.

However David Allen Green, the legal correspondent at the FT and someone who gave the Assange issue a great deal of expert attention, pointed out that “[a]ny extradition from Sweden to the United States would actually be more difficult … because it would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom.”

Did this stop the conspiracy theories being made, or the creepy appeals to “wisdom” from some of Assange’s supporters? Sadly not. It might be remembered that one George Galloway MP took to the airwaves to deliver this odious verdict:

“not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.”

You may think that, being a reasonable sort of person, Galloway would want to wait to see Assange clear his name before making too hasty a judgement. Not so. Galloway also went on to say:

“I don’t believe either of those women, I don’t believe either of these stories.”

What’s due process for anyway?

Unfortunately genuine heroes of the left were not immune either. The late Tony Benn made the following comments in 2011 at a Stop the War Coalition event (see 03:00 minutes in):

“the charge of rape simply doesn’t stand up to examination. First of all, the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape [which] I’m sure most people would understand to be the seizure by force of a woman for the gratification of a man’s need, and all that is said of Julian Assange is that without using a condom he was guilty of rape – and if that is the charge then I tell you a lot of people in this country would be guilty of rape on a daily basis [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]”.

At the time the then Ecuadoran chief diplomat Ricardo Patino said that the rape charges levelled at Assange were “hilarious“. Taking a more professional line this time, Patino, now the Ecuador foreign minister, has said that his government would be looking to set up a meeting with Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary, to see if he can’t do anything to allow Assange a safe passage to Ecuador where he was granted full asylum on 16 August, 2012.

But should such a meeting take place, which itself would be a nonsense, Hammond should tell the Ecuadorian government the following: only when Assange has stood trial in Sweden should the option of safe passage to Ecuador or anywhere else be a matter of consideration.

As changes to the law on extradition don’t affect the Assange case, for him to be extradited to the US from Sweden would have to involve consent by the UK, but if he wants to make his plea for innocence anywhere it should be Sweden, where he is wanted for trial.

If he doesn’t listen to reason on this, perhaps he should have listened to those such as Andrew O’Hagan, a once described “supporter” of Assange. On the question of whether the rape allegations were a “honeytrap”, O’Hagan in his celebrated portrait of Assange for the London Review of Books, said:

“It was a trap he built for himself when he refused to go to Sweden and instead went into the embassy of a nation not famous for its respect for freedom of speech. He will always have an answer to these points. But there is no real answer. He made a massive tactical error in not going to Sweden to clear his name.”

7 Responses to “What Philip Hammond ought to tell the Ecuadorian foreign minister about Assange”

  1. Arbed121

    There are a few points of law you need to take into account. Firstly, Swedish law, under which it is illegal for a prosecutor to DECIDE whether to proceed to charge or prosecution until the preliminary investigation is over, including of course questioning the suspect to hear their version of events on ALL allegations (only happened for 1 out of 4 allegations in Assange’s investigation). Recent (July 2014) public comments by the Swedish prosecutor posted on the Swedish Prosecution Authority’s website indicate she considers her investigation far from complete and she confirmed to a court (again July 2014) that she has not yet reached a decision on whether to charge Assange, ie. that she is still operating within that aspect of Swedish law. She misled the UK courts on this point. The EAW against Assange was therefore NEVER valid. He does not need to return to “clear his name before a court in Sweden” and he is not “wanted for trial” as there is no trial envisaged to date.

    Second, Assange’s case DID in fact set the precedents that an individual could extradited from the UK without a decision to charge even being reached (and for that extradition to be ordered by someone acting in the role of an investigator, rather than an impartial judicial authority), and it is why the UK had to opt-out and opt back in to the EAW with the new changes, which effectively re-introduce the safeguards removed by the Assange extradition decision. You may be aware that the UK’s Parliamentary Select Committee on Extradition Law reform recently wrote to Assange requesting a submission from him on whether the UK’s extradition system breaches fundamental human rights. The SC wouldn’t be doing that if it was felt that Assange’s case wasn’t relevant on that score.

    With regard to David Allen Green’s argument that Assange is safeguarded from onward extradition because it “requires the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom”, you need to research Section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, which gives the UK Home Secretary the authority to waive the Specialty Clause preventing onward extradition for offences not in the original EAW. They can do so without any judicial review in the UK courts. Yes, Theresa May can simply handwave away any protection for Assange in respect of extradition to the US.

    Final point: The women’s own words: SW – “I did not want to accuse him [Assange] of anything. It was the police who made up the charges” (21 August 2010), AA – “I have not been raped” (April 2012).

  2. Guest

    So basically, you don’t feel the Swedish judicial system is valid. Well.

    Moreover, it’s not a private prosecution.

  3. PJM

    Your choice of quote from O’Hagan could be better. O’Hagan has shifted the goalposts in his use of the trap metaphor and you’ve compounded his metaphorical ‘sleight of hand’. The tone of this article is way too biased anyway and if you have a problem with the tribal nature of comments by Galloway and Pilger it won’t do to approach this whole affair from the other tribe.

    What was it Ed M said about the (New) Labour Party and becoming the establishment…?

  4. Arbed121

    “Moreover, it’s not a private prosecution.”

    So, are you saying that it’s not proper for women to themselves decide whether they feel a crime has been committed against them or not? If so, isn’t that a little patronising? I’d say that women are the best judge of it myself. Nothing says emancipation and empowerment more than being allowed to decide for yourself what action you’d like to be taken on your behalf or in your name, to me anyway – speaking personally as a woman.

    I’m not saying the Swedish judicial system is invalid (though there are problems – particularly in issues of pre-trial detention. Sweden has been criticised repeatedly in various Council of Europe, UN and US State Dept reports on the matter). However, I do feel this particular case has been very badly handled, both in Sweden and in the UK. That’s what happens when the underlying reasons for a case are more political than legal.

  5. Guest

    The state has an interest in prosecuting crime, if you like it or not.

    You did say it was invalid because it didn’t work as you like – and the UK is heavily dinged for overuse of Remand as well.

    Then you jump right into sex crime apologia. So.

  6. Arbed121

    Sorry. Perhaps I should have explained that I’m speaking as a woman who has reported rape to the police. In my case, the CPS didn’t want to proceed further because they felt the fact I’d taken 3 weeks to buck up the courage to report it would count against me, and I had stupidly – out of rage – thrown a letter of apology admitting rape back in the face of (one of) my rapist(s), thus destroying pretty solid evidence…

    Now, you were saying? You were about to give me your detailed response to the substantiative points of law I raised above in respect of the Assange investigation.

  7. Guest

    I don’t care about your excuses. In fact, self-hate is remarkably uninteresting to me, and you’re blaming the women in this case for taking time to report the crime, for instance – “political”.

    And I need merely point to the UK extradition proceedings which dealt with these issues. In detail. Despite the fact they are technically not supposed to consider them for an EAW.

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