Swedish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has denied the allegations, which he calls a pretext for his ultimate extradition to the U.S. to face prosecution under the Espionage Act. Since 2012, Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. It’s not clear whether Assange will emerge any time soon. "This is a small victory, but in this long road to free Julian Assange and all the people working for WikiLeaks," says our guest Renata Avila, a Courage Foundation trustee and human rights lawyer. "But it will finally help us lawyers to focus on the main issue, which is the persecution, the political persecution, and imminent prosecution of Julian Assange in the United States."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with news from Sweden, where a prosecutor on Friday dropped an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has denied the allegations, which he calls a pretext for his ultimate extradition to the United States to face prosecution under the Espionage Act. Since 2012, Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. It’s not clear whether he will emerge any time soon.
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks tweeted Friday, quote, "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK," end-quote. Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed the U.S. has prepared a warrant for Assange, calling his arrest a "priority."
For more, we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream—Renata Avila is with us, a Courage Foundation trustee and human rights lawyer. She’s been advising WikiLeaks and Julian Assange under the direction of Baltasar Garzón, the former Spanish judge who has indicted Augusto Pinochet, Osama bin Laden, Bush administration officials and many others on human rights grounds.
Renata Avila, welcome to Democracy Now! Thanks for joining us from Berlin, Germany. Your response to this stunning news out of Sweden?
RENATA AVILA: I cannot hide my smile, to be honest. It is such a week to celebrate. It is a week to celebrate. This is a small victory, but in this long road to free Julian Assange and all the people working for WikiLeaks. But it will finally help us lawyers to focus on the main issue, which is the persecution, the political persecution, and imminent prosecution of Julian Assange in the United States. And so, we are ready now for the battle to defend his right to publish. It was a long overdue decision from Swedish courts. Even the United Nations told them to do so more than one year ago and declare his detention arbitrary. But now, finally, for the second time, we can say that he is innocent in the Swedish system. He has never been charged of a crime. And we hope that this will help people to focus on the issue that matters in this case, which is our right to know and his right to publish.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Renata Avila, what about this issue of a possible U.S. warrant for Julian Assange? Is there any responsibility on the part of the government to advise you or any of his other attorneys about the existence of a warrant of such kind?
RENATA AVILA: Well, we know how this operates. I mean, the investigation of WikiLeaks—against WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, it was all kept in extreme secrecy. So, it’s a secret grand jury. We can know only when it is—a notice is served. And we suspect that it’s already there. I mean, if you remember, in the Stratfor emails revelations, there was a confirmation of an indictment in the—in emails shared privately among those private intelligence persons. But—and we have, over the time, through Freedom of Information requests, found vast evidence of this investigation. But, I mean, it is clear from Sessions’ statements, and it’s clear from Pompeo’s statements, that it is imminent.
But now the battle that we have to fight here is the right of asylum. Julian Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador. It’s a sovereign nation. And it is a practice by any state, any democratic state, to grant asylum to people politically persecuted. The political persecution is clear. And now it is a balance. Will the West be willing to not respect asylum, and therefore risk all the potential people that they want to protect, just to get Julian Assange? Or will they respect the human right to asylum? That’s the question that we have to answer in the following months.
AMY GOODMAN: Renata, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has called on Donald Trump to drop the U.S. government’s investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He joined more than a hundred other activists, journalists, government workers in signing an open letter from the Courage Foundation to President Trump that calls prosecuting WikiLeaks, quote, "a threat to all free journalism." The letter asks the Department of Justice to drop plans to charge Assange and other WikiLeaks staff members, and reads, quote, "If the DOJ is able to convict a publisher for its journalistic work, all free journalism can be criminalised." So, if you can respond to this, Renata, and also what happens now? Has the Ecuadorean government responded? And what about the British government? If Julian Assange steps foot outside—he is not wanted by Sweden—will the British government arrest him?
RENATA AVILA: I will answer the last question first. The U.K. is refusing to respect its international obligations. And they said that—Met Police issued a statement saying that they will arrest him. They will arrest him for a minor infraction on jumping bail. But it is a misunderstanding, because he didn’t jump bail. He had—he didn’t stay a night in the house under house arrest, because he needed to exercise his right to asylum.
AMY GOODMAN: We seem to have lost Renata Avila for a moment. She’s speaking to us from Berlin, Germany, by Democracy Now! video stream, that is faltering right now. We’re not sure why. So we’re going to go to a break. We’re going to see if we can get her back for a moment. And then we spend the rest of the hour on a fascinating new book called Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women. We’ll also be joined by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Krauss. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. It looks like we cannot get Renata Avila back on with us, one of the advisers to Julian Assange. She was speaking to us from Berlin, Germany, about this latest news that Sweden has dropped the investigation into Julian Assange, where a prosecutor Friday dropped that investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Julian Assange has always called this a pretext for the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States. And we’ll be bringing you the latest through the weekend.