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As Julian Assange Continues to Avoid Extradition, the Swedish Government Could Pose a Problem

By Staff Writer Taylor Veracka ‘18

The name Julian Assange is familiar to most these days. The enigmatic founder of Wikileaks has gained notoriety for creating a nonprofit organization dedicated to the reporting and publishing of government information Assange and volunteers for Wikileaks deem important for the entire world to know.  “We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their own government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government through the media,” proclaims the “About” section of the Wikileaks website. Now, however, the founder is dealing with something more pressing than hacking:  sexual assault and rape charges leveled at him by the Swedish government.

Julian Assange founded the organization Wikileaks in 2006. Within the first year, he published over 1 million documents to his database, including expense reports from the war in Afghanistan, and nearly 800 secret files regarding prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. Because of the information he has released, Assange refuses to go back to Sweden for questioning in his rape and sexual assault case: he believes that the Swedish government will then extradite him to the United States, where it is possible the U.S. government would have a criminal case against him. Since 2012, he has sought asylum from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

While some consider Assange a hero for releasing what some consider vital information to the general populace (2016 Green Party US presidential candidate Jill Stein most notably called Assange a "hero" for his work), Assange’s character is coming back into question in a big way. In August 2010, Assange had been accused of rape and sexual assault by two Wikileaks volunteers with whom he reportedly engaged in sexual relations at their respective apartments.  At the time, the case was dropped. Several months later, however, the Swedish chief prosecutor reopened the case with the intention of questioning Assange further. Assange stated that he would comply with the questioning as he consistently claimed to be innocent.

His insistence was seemingly undermined when he refused to set foot back in Sweden and instead attempted to acquire the protection of the British government. These hopes were dashed when he violated the bail terms that had been set after his arrest by the UK government on behalf of the United States. Eventually, Assange’s options ran out and he was forced to seek asylum with the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has stayed since 2012. Questioning Assange proved to be difficult under such circumstances, as the process can only be conducted in person and the current Swedish chief prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren, originally wanted to do it on Swedish soil. After it became abundantly clear that Assange would not cooperate with the investigation, Isgren agreed to travel to the Ecuadorian embassy to receive his official statement. The trip finally took place this month.  

The recent questioning occurred over the course of two days. Assange was supposedly questioned by an Ecuadorian prosecutor, as opposed to Isgren, due to legal formalities within the Ecuadorian embassy. These questions were previously prepared by the Swedes, and they were asked in the presence of Isgren. Additionally, with his consent, a DNA sample was to be taken, and then Ecuadorian officials would file a report for Sweden. It is based on this questioning that the Ecuadorian and Swedish prosecutors will come to a conclusion as to whether or not take Assange to trial for his alleged crimes, ABC news reports.

If Assange is brought to trial, it will be interesting to see how it will be handled. Since he is now wanted by the UK for violating bail in addition to the United States for more serious crimes, Assange will likely fight anything that will require him to leave the embassy. More importantly, if he is ever going to actually be leveled with a charge (he has not been yet), will that have any effect on his credibility as a reporter? Given the scope of Assange's influence, and the number of ardent supporters his hacking network has obtained, it is unlikely that this will have any serious implications for him. However, what this means for his possible extradition to the United States to face war crimes should he be brought to trial will absolutely be something to follow, as any step outside of the Ecuadorian embassy could lead to extradition.

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