Assange claims victory after Sweden drops rape probe

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking to the media from the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy, where he has been holed up since 2012. British police could arrest him for breaching earlier bail conditions if he leaves the building.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking to the media from the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy, where he has been holed up since 2012. British police could arrest him for breaching earlier bail conditions if he leaves the building.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But 'proper war' over his future is just beginning, says WikiLeaks founder

LONDON • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave a clenched fist salute on Friday after Swedish prosecutors dropped a seven-year rape allegation, but he insisted the "proper war" over his future was just beginning.

Assange stepped into the daylight on the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy, where he has been holed up since 2012, to celebrate, but said the road was "far from over".

The 45-year-old Australian's accuser was angered by the decision and Assange declined to say whether he would leave the embassy.

British police could arrest him immediately for breaching earlier bail conditions if he left the building, while US authorities have warned they regard WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service".

"Today is an important victory," Assange, in a black shirt and jacket, told reporters and a small band of supporters crowded around the tiny balcony.

"But it by no means erases seven years of detention without charge. In prison, under house arrest and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight.

"That is not something that I can forgive. It is not something that I can forget."

NO POINT

It is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence.

MS MARIANNE NY, Sweden's director of public prosecutions, on why the rape investigation had been dropped.


NO JUSTICE

It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts.

MS ELISABETH FRITZ, lawyer for Assange's accuser.

Earlier in Stockholm, Ms Marianne Ny, Sweden's director of public prosecutions, said the rape investigation had been dropped because there was "no reason to believe that the decision to surrender him to Sweden can be executed in the foreseeable future".

"It is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence," she said.

Assange jumped British bail by entering the embassy in 2012 and claiming asylum, saying he feared he would eventually be extradited to the United States.

US justice authorities have never confirmed that they have Assange under investigation or are seeking his extradition.

US prosecutors have been drafting a memo that looks at charges against Assange and WikiLeaks members that possibly include conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post.

US President Donald Trump's administration has put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in March by releasing files and computer code from the CIA's top-secret hacking operations.

In Sweden, Assange's accuser was left stunned by the prosecutors' decision. "It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts," her lawyer Elisabeth Fritz said.

"My client is shocked and no decision to (end the case) can make her change (her mind) that Assange exposed her to rape," she said.

The accusation against Assange dates from August 2010 when the alleged victim, who says she met him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm a few days earlier, filed a complaint. She accused him of having sex with her - as she slept - without using a condom despite repeatedly having denied him unprotected sex.

  • Where now for Julian Assange?

  • LONDON • Prison time in Britain? A new life in Ecuador? Extradition to the United States? Another five years in Ecuador's London embassy? WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's future could now follow many different paths.

    Swedish prosecutors said last Friday that they were dropping a rape investigation on him. Police say an arrest warrant remains active for Assange for breaching his bail conditions, after he failed to appear in court to accept his extradition.

    Here are the main possible scenarios:

    FINE

    Assange leaves the embassy and is arrested, but moves quickly through the British courts process. He is given a minor fine and is then free to resume his WikiLeaks work more directly and publicly.

    JAIL TERM

    Assange is arrested and held for months while his case progresses, before being given a prison sentence that could reach a maximum of one year.

    EXTRADITION TO U.S.

    US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said last month that "we will seek to put some people in jail", when asked if arresting Assange was a "priority" for Washington. But US authorities have never confirmed that they have Assange under investigation or are seeking his extradition.

    The challenge would be how to charge Assange.

    The US government has protected the right of journalists to publish secret materials under the US Constitution's First Amendment.

    But, in recent weeks, several officials from the national security community have begun laying out a case in public that Assange does not qualify as a journalist, alleging he focuses on publishing materials damaging to the US.

    EXTRADITION TO SWEDEN

    Mr David Allen Green, a law commentator for The Financial Times, said that if Assange was arrested, Sweden could resume its case. He tweeted: "If Assange went into British custody, then the Swedes may well revisit their decision on proportionality, as extradition is suddenly easier."

    SAFE PASSAGE TO ECUADOR

    Ecuador last Friday urged Britain to grant Assange "safe passage" out of the country. "The European Arrest Warrant no longer holds. The UK must now grant safe passage to Mr Assange," Foreign Minister Guillaume Long wrote on Twitter. This can take place only when the English legal system has finished with him for jumping bail.

    STAY PUT

    Assange stays right where he is, in the red-brick flat in 3, Hans Crescent, continuing his work with WikiLeaks. His 18 sq m room has a bed, computer, sun lamp, treadmill and a microwave, and he has a cat for company. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Assange always denied the allegations, which he feared would lead to him being extradited to face trial over the leak of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents in 2010, that brought WikiLeaks to prominence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Assange claims victory after Sweden drops rape probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe