Is Freedom of Information on Trial, or Just a Man Named Julian Assange?
The extradition hearing for Julian Assange on allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion of two Swedish women in August of 2010 entered its second day on Tuesday. As the hearing did not conclude within the two days allotted, it willto continue on Friday, February 11, for an extra half-day. A judgement is not expected until next week with both the Swedish prosecutors and Assange’s lawyers likely to appeal, depending on the the verdict. And even after that, the case is likely to drag on for months, as Assange’s lawyers have suggested that they might carry on their client’s suit to European courts.
Some new details emerged at the hearing. According to the Guardian, Björn Hurtig, who is representing Assange in Sweden, told the court that
…he had been shown “about 100″ messages sent between the women and their friends while supervised by a Swedish police officer, but had not been permitted to make notes or share the contents with his client.
“I consider this to be contrary to the rules of a fair trial,” he said. A number of the messages “go against what the claimants have said”, he told the court.
In some of the texts, the two women ‘speak of “revenge” and extracting money’ from Assange, according to Hurtig.
Also at the hearing, more details emerged regarding Assange’s whereabouts when requested for questioning by Swedish authorities. In a contradiction to statements made earlier by Assange and his lawyers, Hurtig said that Swedish prosecutors had tried to interview Assange before he left the country for the UK:
Hurtig told the extradition hearing that he had been wrong to assert that the prosecutor Marianne Ny had made no active attempt to interview Assange between her appointment to the case, on 1 September last year, and 27 September, when Assange left the country with her permission.
Another witness, a former Swedish prosecutor, Sven-Erik Alhem, stated that Swedish prosecutors did not follow the ‘proper procedure.’ As reported in the BBC, Alhem said that ‘it was “quite peculiar” that authorities did not obtain the Wikileaks founder’s version of events before seeking his arrest.”‘ (Assange has yet to be formerly charged with any crimes by the Swedish authorities, who are requesting that he be extradited for questioning.)
However, when Alhem was asked what he would have done had he been in Assange’s situation, he replied that he would have ‘””have gone to Sweden to give my version of events……It would be very important to me to clear my name given I was innocent.”‘
In addition, prosecutors said that they had made repeated efforts to interview Assange, who was to contact:
Clare Montgomery QC, representing Swedish prosecutors, outlined how in September last year Mr Assange – who had been in the country – was invited 10 times to give his response, but his lawyers were unable to contact him.
Authorities made an unsuccessful search for him and then learned that the Wikileaks founder had left for the UK.
The attempts to interview him continued into October – Mr Assange offered to speak via videolink or phone, but this was turned down because of the seriousness of the allegations.
Swedish prosecutors decided he had become what they called an obvious flight risk and it was not unreasonable to detain him.
39-year-old Assange, an Australian citizen, is the founder of Wikileaks, the website that has published a vast trove of leaked cables from US diplomats, as well as from other governments and high-profile organizations. Assange has long contended that, should he be extradited to Sweden, he might then face extradition to the US where he would face far more serious charges of conspiracy. Assange and his lawyers have asserted that he might face incarceration in the Guantánamo Bay detention center and also, possibly, the death penalty. But as the February 8th New York Times points out, ‘although American officials have spent months reviewing the damage done by the leaks and considering possible criminal actions against Mr. Assange, he has not been indicted for making confidential documents public.’
Assange’s supporters, more than a few of who were present at the hearing, and some of whom have nominated him for a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, contend that it is ‘”freedom of information itself is on trial”‘—-or is it simply a man named Julian Assange who is being tried in court?
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Photo by Espen Moe (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_4739) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.