When Julian Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012, he was fleeing from sexual assault accusations against him in Sweden. Swedish authorities could still go after the WikiLeaks founder, who was arrested Thursday after Ecuador withdrew its protection and allowed British police to drag him out of the embassy. A closer look at the case:
WHAT WERE THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST ASSANGE IN SWEDEN?
Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into Assange after two women accused him of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Sweden.
Assange denied the claims. He left for Britain in September of that year, and in November, a Stockholm court approved a request to detain Assange for questioning. Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant for him.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE ACCUSERS?
Assange met both women in connection with a lecture on Aug. 14, 2010, in Stockholm. One was involved in organizing an event for Sweden’s center-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other was in the audience. After Assange had sex with both within a week, they went to police together to seek advice. A police officer who heard their accounts decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed the case to a prosecutor.
WHEN AND WHY WAS THE SWEDISH CASE CLOSED?
In June 2012, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid arrest, fearing extradition to the United States. In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped a case of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out. That left a rape allegation. Two years later, prosecutors dropped the probe into the rape claim, saying there was no way to detain or charge Assange “in the foreseeable future” because of his protected status inside the embassy. Authorities said it was “no longer proportionate” to maintain the European arrest warrant.
After Sweden dropped the case, Assange remained inside the embassy because he was still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.
CAN SWEDEN REOPEN THE CASE?
Yes. Swedish prosecutors have said the case could be reopened before the statute of limitations for the rape claim ends in August 2020. After Assange’s arrest on Thursday, the prosecution’s deputy director, Eva-Marie Persson, was tapped to look into a request from a lawyer for one of the accusers to find out whether the case can be reopened.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange, told The Associated Press that she would “do everything” to have the Swedish case reopened so Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted.
WHAT IS SWEDEN’S DEFINITION OF RAPE?
Under the Swedish criminal code, rape is defined as forced sexual intercourse initiated by one or more people without consent but also intercourse and comparable sexual acts against someone incapable of giving consent (fear or unconsciousness, for instance.) In 2018, Sweden passed a new law that criminalizes sex without consent as rape, even when there are no threats, coercion or violence involved.
CAN SWEDEN REQUEST HIS EXTRADITION?
Yes. Ove Bring, professor emeritus of international law at Stockholm University, said a new European arrest warrant for Assange could be issued, “but we are not there yet.” Persson said the case would be reviewed, but that no investigation has resumed and no timetable set.
IF SENT TO SWEDEN, DOES ASSANGE RISK EXTRADITION TO THE UNITED STATES?
Bring concluded that an extradition to the U.S. is “completely unthinkable” if the person is wanted for “political reasons.” The decision would be up to the Swedish government, with input from the prosecution and a veto right given to Sweden’s Supreme Court in cases where the requested person does not accept to be extradited.