It’s November 2010 and Julian Assange has just been issued a European arrest warrant for raping two women in Sweden. Faced with these accusations, and the prospect of extradition to the USA for WikiLeaks activity, Assange seeks asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
It’s been close to a decade, Assange has now been arrested and jailed for 50 weeks in the UK for breaching his bail. Meanwhile, it is up to the British government to either uphold Sweden’s request for extradition or the USA’s.
Although throughout this process Assange has maintained that the extradition to Sweden will be used as a stepping stone for his arrest by American authorities, now that he is accused with Espionage in the US, Sweden might offer him protection from these ‘political charges’.
Since this case began, Assange and his supporters have accused governments for setting him up with a ‘honeytrap’ – subverting the truth about his sexual relationship with Ana Adin and Miss M in Sweden in order to hand him over to the USA. At the time, Assange said “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism,” and he “fell into a hornets’ nest of revolutionary feminism.”
The prospect of women being used by governments to catch digital-left-wing revolutionaries reads like a bad spy novel. For anyone concerned with equality, it is another repellent plot-line imagined by a lecherous author.
Still, no matter which way you look at it, if you take the victim’s word, the case has been used to divert the cause of geopolitics, making sex the Achilles heel in the international justice system.
On the one side, the values of freedom of speech and the right to democratic press are undermined. On the other, a woman’s ‘sexual morality’ is called into question. Either way, it’s a bad story.
When it comes to sexual assault cases it is understood that, ideally, the victim’s word should be taken as true. After all, without witnesses to the act, how should the courts rule – in favour of the perpetrator? Of course, plenty of courts have been doing just this for decades.
It’s estimated that only 15% of sexual assault cases are reported in the UK because women know how easy it is for perpetrators to dodge prosecution. Although the #MeToo renaissance has seen many offenders held accountable for sexual misconduct, allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have been left by the wayside, precisely because it can be arduous to find firsthand evidence beyond the victim’s allegations.
This makes Assange’s case all the more troubling. Liberal democracies are a far stretch from being on the side of right, but it is significant that in an era where entrenched systems are shifting (Brexit, independence in Catalonia, the rise of the far right, and Trump’s admission to Washington) freedom of speech, one of pillars of democratic governments, is being challenged. Whilst, simultaneously, rape allegations are being weighed for their value.
Whilst maintaining a relationship with the USA has value, Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are attaching a more significant value to the victim’s story. Particularly, the cultural and social implications of dismissing rape as an inconvenient byproduct of a political drama. 70 British lawmakers have signed a letter to Sajid Javid from Labour MP Stella Creasy urging him to give priority to Sweden’s extradition request.
All evidence would suggest that this is the best course of action. Especially if it has the potential to protect Assange’s from arrest over WikiLeaks. Either way, the Espionage charge and its threat to free press, must be dealt with secondly. For now, it is important that the UK stands on the victim’s side.