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After Swedish Prosecutors Back Down, Is WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Close to Freedom?

March 16, 2015
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Michael Ratner

president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is one of the U.S. attorneys for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Ratner is also the chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Today marks the 1,000th day WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent in political asylum inside Ecuador’s London embassy. For the first time, Swedish prosecutors have opened the door to Assange’s departure with a request to question him in London. Assange has never been charged over allegations of sexual assault, but has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, fearing a Swedish arrest warrant could lead to his extradition to the United States. We speak with Assange attorney, Michael Ratner, who says an interview with the prosecutor may result in no charges, and even if Assange were convicted of these allegations, “he has done all the time he would have to do... so the whole case is essentially a bogus way of keeping him in that embassy."


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the 1,000th day that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent in Ecuador’s London embassy, where he has political asylum. Now, for the first time, Swedish prosecutors have issued a request to question Assange in London. This follows pressure from their own courts, from Swedish courts, and repeated requests by Assange’s lawyers. Assange has never been charged over allegations of sexual assault, yet he has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, fearing that if he steps outside, he would be arrested and extradited to Sweden, which could lead to his extradition to the United States. His lawyers have been asking Swedish prosecutors to question him in London for over four years. On Friday, Assange’s attorney in Stockholm, Sweden, Per Samuelson, welcomed the news.

PER SAMUELSON: A bottom line is, after the autumn of 2010, the prosecutor did nothing for more than four years. That’s clear breach of Swedish law. That has hurt Mr. Assange severely. And it has also hurt both the women, who have not had their case tried for over four years. And it hurts the court, because witnesses forget. Time passes on, and all the evidence is much worse now than it was back in 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: In July, Democracy Now! went to London to the Ecuadorean Embassy to speak with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the Swedish government’s handling of his case.

JULIAN ASSANGE: There has been no movement. Although the Swedish government is obligated to somehow progress the situation, they’ve been very happy to keep it a complete stasis. They’ve refused to come here to speak to me here or pick up a telephone or to accept an affidavit. They have also refused to provide a guarantee that I will not be extradited to the United States if I offer to go to Sweden. So, that situation means we have to tackle the Swedish matter, it seems, in Sweden. The only other alternative is perhaps going to the International Court of Justice in relation to the asylum. ... The Swedish government has an obligation under its own law to proceed with maximum speed, with minimum cost, and also with bringing the minimum suspicion on the person who’s being investigated. And it is in clear violation of all those points of law.

AMY GOODMAN: That was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking to Democracy Now! in July from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. To see the whole hour, you can go to democracynow.org.

But right now, we’re joined by Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He and CCR are the U.S. attorneys for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He’s also the chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Michael, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of what the Swedish government has now said.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it’s the Swedish prosecutor, really, as you pointed out, being forced to do so because Julian’s lawyers have gone to the Swedish courts and said, "How can this go for four years with allegations, over four years?" Julian is in custody because he can’t leave that embassy without being forced to go to Sweden, and ultimately to the United States. And so, it’s a victory for Julian, but it also shows the outrage of the Swedish prosecutor and their system. Here it’s four years. Julian has had to give up his passport, take refuge in the embassy, been given asylum, deprived of any kind of real freedom, no ability to visit his family, etc. Four years later, now the prosecutor says, "I can question Julian about these allegations."

AMY GOODMAN: So I want to go exactly to what she said. On Friday, the director of public prosecutions in Sweden, Marianne Ny, issued a statement. She wrote, quote, "My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future. Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward."

MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, well, she’s not telling the truth there. The Swedish Supreme Court just issued an order to the prosecutor saying, "Explain the investigatory delay in this case." The lower court said to her, "This case has not preceded according to Swedish law." So, it’s not right. She could have done this questioning a long time ago. Of course, one of the big problems with this is that, meanwhile, the U.S. has continued its intensive investigation of Julian Assange. Just a few weeks ago, they admitted that they were going forward with an espionage investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. How do you know that?

MICHAEL RATNER: There was a court decision, based in a Freedom of Information Act case, in which documents were requested about WikiLeaks supporters and what the Department of Justice was doing with them and what the FBI was doing with them. And the court decision said, "We can’t turn over these documents because there’s an ongoing multi-subject investigation of Julian Assange, and it’s for espionage, conspiracy, theft of government documents." We know it from that, and we know it from search warrants that have been issued to three WikiLeaks employees that indicate that there’s an ongoing investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: How can Julian Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen, be charged with espionage here?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I always found that—when I first got involved with this case, I always found that to be remarkable. He doesn’t owe any loyalty to the United States as a citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: Is espionage different from the espionage law, the act?

MICHAEL RATNER: Espionage is similar. Now, I think that one of the reasons you see that they’re looking at him for theft of documents, as well as for Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, is because the U.S. understands that most countries in the world will not extradite Julian Assange for espionage. So they throw in these other, quote, "non-espionage" charges, even though they’re all related to espionage. That’s why they do it. Espionage is the classic, classic political crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the Swedish prosecutor will be questioning Julian Assange about. Now, again, although some of the media will say he’s been charged with sexual misconduct, he’s never been charged. He hasn’t even been questioned, until, apparently, now he will be.

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. Now, well, he did answer questions at one point in Sweden, when he was there. And after that questioning, the charges were actually dismissed or not allowed to go forward. And then the case switched to another prosecutor, and that prosecutor then took it forward. So, Sweden has this claimed, you know, authority that it has this wonderful, fair country. But, in fact, it’s not. And there was actually a recent periodic review of Sweden’s compliance with its fundamental law and its laws of justice, and many countries have come in and said, "What is going on in Sweden? How can it be four years for this?" Well, as you said, it’s allegations. He’ll be questioned about those allegations. I’m assuming that the prosecutor will go forward and do this. Of course, there are some conditions. She has to apply under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which I assume Ecuador and the U.K. will allow it. She also has to turn over her investigative file to Julian Assange’s lawyers and the defense team.

AMY GOODMAN: To you.

MICHAEL RATNER: The defense team in Sweden, yes. And that is one of the things that has been litigated in the courts: How come they have failed to turn over parts of the file to Julian Assange’s lawyers? Ultimately, this case and what’s going to happen to it is going to go to the European Court of Human Rights on a number of issues, including his arbitrary detention in the embassy. But in the end, Sweden is there. But in the final—final answer is it’s what’s happened in the United States and the fact that it’s this ongoing, multi-subject investigation of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, publishers—let’s repeat that, publishers—of documents taken by others.

AMY GOODMAN: What does espionage charges in the United States have to do with sexual misconduct allegations in Sweden?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, the main thing is that Julian would have gone to Sweden a long time ago had he gotten a guarantee from Sweden that they will not forward him to the United States for standing trial on the espionage charges. Sweden has never been willing to give that guarantee. And Sweden has a very bad reputation of complying with U.S. demands, whether it was sending some people from Sweden to Egypt for torture or whether it’s guaranteeing people who are asylees in Sweden that they won’t be deported. So, Sweden has not—a key here is that Sweden has not given the guarantee that it’s required to do and to recognize Julian’s asylum. Let’s understand, he’s been given asylum by Ecuador. Every country in the world is obligated to recognize that asylum. And that’s asylum, because Ecuador has said Julian Assange will be persecuted in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute. What can happen now? Well, first of all, do you think part of the change has to do with the Swedish government changing?

MICHAEL RATNER: I don’t know that. I know that there’s been heavy litigation in Sweden by Julian’s lawyers, and the courts, as I’ve said, have slapped that prosecutor around.

AMY GOODMAN: So what can happen now? A Swedish prosecutor goes to London. Ecuador has hailed this decision, of course will allow the questioners to go into the embassy. They will question Julian Assange. And what happens from that?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, there’s different consequences that could happen. One is they could say that, as the first prosecutor said, that this case isn’t strong enough to go forward with that case. That would be one. A second thing they could say is—well, maybe they could say, "Well, we think we’re going to go forward anyway." But let’s bring out one fact. Julian has now spent over four years in custody of some form—as you said as you opened, a thousand days in the embassy. Almost three years. If he were sentenced—if he were convicted of these allegations, they were made into charges, and he’s convicted—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MICHAEL RATNER: —he would not do—he’s done all the time he would have to do. And therefore, he wouldn’t do any time any longer, so the whole case is essentially a bogus way of keeping him in that embassy. And he has to be kept out of the United States in recognized asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, attorney for Julian Assange, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. To see all of our coverage of the Julian Assange case and our interview with him in the Ecuadorean Embassy, go to our website at democracynow.org.


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