The utterly shambolic nature of the public case against Julian Assange is revealed here. Political pressure, anybody?
TONY EASTLEY: Lawyers for WikiLeak’s editor and founder, Julian Assange, say he could have a meeting with British authorities to discuss sexual assault charges laid against him by Swedish police, within 24 hours.
Scotland Yard has received a European arrest warrant for Mr Assange. Sweden wants him extradited but that’s something he and his lawyers are fighting. They fear he will be handed over to US authorities.
Since WikiLeaks published thousands of confidential American diplomatic cables, Mr Assange has become one of the world’s most publicised and wanted men. In the US his actions have been described as akin to terrorism.
One of his lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, says her client’s ability to fight the charges have been hampered by the freezing of his bank account.
She told AM that Mr Assange will approach Australia’s High Commission in London for consular assistance.
I asked Jennifer Robinson whether the arrest warrant had been officially issued.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: The arrest warrant has been communicated today and I can confirm that we were contacted by the police this afternoon and are in the process of arranging, negotiating for a meeting with Mr Assange to deal with this matter.
They, Sweden is obviously seeking extradition but again we say it is completely disproportionate because we are offering testimony that they seek. The Swedish prosecutor was on national television just last night saying that all she wants to hear is his side of the story. We find that incredible considering we have offered his side of the story on numerous occasions and she has rejected those offers.
TONY EASTLEY: Alright, well that meeting that you’re talking about is that a face-to-face meeting between Mr Assange and authorities?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: It will be but I’m unable to confirm any further details at this time.
TONY EASTLEY: Why shouldn’t he got to Sweden to answer the charges?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well he’s offered on a number of occasions to offer her, the answers to her questions. She said publicly on television last night that all she wants is his side of the story. Now we’ve offered that on numerous occasions. There is no need for him to return to Sweden to do that.
TONY EASTLEY: So he’ll answer the questions but he’d rather not got to Sweden to do it?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well first we need the evidence. I mean he needs to be told what the allegations are against him and the evidence against him.
TONY EASTLEY: Is that not in the arrest warrant?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: We haven’t even seen a copy of the arrest warrant. What we know is that an arrest warrant was issued about two weeks ago, communicated to the UK authorities, and it was sent back on the grounds that there was an administrative error. I am still trying to seek confirmation of what that was.
I have been writing to Europol, to Interpol, the British authorities seeking copies of these various arrest warrants that have been communicated and none have been provided. We have not the arrest warrant, we have not the evidence, we have not an allegation in English.
TONY EASTLEY: Is that highly unusual?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: It is highly irregular. In fact it’s bizarre.
TONY EASTLEY: Has Mr Assange’s accounts been frozen in the meantime?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: This is another one of our complaints. Just today his Swiss bank account, which was in fact the bank account to which we were fundraising for his legal defence fund, was frozen.
So he’s in the incredibly undesirable position of being in a foreign country, without access to funds, looking to post bail and he’s just had his legal defence fund frozen on discriminatory grounds which places into question his ability to raise a defence against these charges here in the UK.
So all stops are being pulled.
TONY EASTLEY: Has he sought Australian consular assistance?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: He has sought Australian consular assistance in Sweden some time ago and nothing was forthcoming. So we are obviously very keen to be in touch with the Australian authorities and seek their assistance.
TONY EASTLEY: So, will you try again?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Absolutely, and I will be communicating that this evening.
TONY EASTELY: Do you expect to get help from the Australian Government?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I do. The Attorney-General has, in a fairly big turn-around, come out and said that consular assistance will be available and of course we will be availing ourselves of that assistance.
TONY EASTLEY: A raft of high powered people in different countries are lining up to criticise and condemn Julian Assange, will he get a fair trial, a fair hearing?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I think he will get a fair hearing here in Britain but I think our, his prospects if he were ever to be returned to the US, which is a real threat, of a fair trial is, in my view, nigh on impossible.
TONY EASTELY: As his lawyer have you come under any pressure?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: We have. Just in the last week both myself and Mark Stephens, his two lawyers here in London, have been under surveillance and I have instructions from his Swedish counsel that he has suffered the same experience.
TONY EASTLEY: What sort of surveillance?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Being followed, having people sitting outside our homes, certain interferences with telephone calls. A number of issues.
TONY EASTLEY: Do you have any idea who’s behind that?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: It would only be speculation.
TONY EASTLEY: Where is Mr Assange now?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I cannot confirm his whereabouts, though we are in contact with him and as I said earlier we are in the process of negotiating with police to arrange for a meeting.
TONY EASTLEY: Is it right to assume that he’s somewhere in the UK?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: As I said I can’t confirm his whereabouts.
TONY EASTLEY: If it wasn’t Mr Assange but a large newspaper organisation publishing the leaks do you think governments would be pursuing the case with such force?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well what we have to remember is that news organisations are publishing the leaks in the same way that WikiLeaks are. So there are real questions about the way in which he is being isolated and persecuted.
TONY EASTLEY: A report in an Australian newspaper this-morning says Mr Assange’s family in Australia has received threats. Can you confirm that?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I can confirm that there have been threats in the US on various blog sites calling on people to harm his son. This is obviously part of a broader risk of threat to Mr Assange himself.
We take these threats of assassination incredibly seriously and they are obviously illegal and those individuals who are inciting violence ought to be considered for prosecution.
As we’ve seen in Canada, the former advisor to the prime minister, a university professor, had very publicly called for his assassination. He’s now under police investigation and rightly so in my view.
TONY EASTLEY: If Mr Assange was arrested and faced court would that stop WikiLeaks publishing more leaked documents?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Absolutely not. I think we’re up to today cable 261 of 250,000. The media organisations that are working with WikiLeaks to publish this material have been working on this for some time and we suspect that the cables will continue to be published in an orderly fashion in accordance with the schedule agreed for the coming months and perhaps longer.
So there is a wealth of material that’s out there and that will not stop with Mr Assange’s arrest.
TONY EASTLEY: Just harking back to that meeting, Jennifer Robinson, the meeting that you’re hoping to set up between Mr Assange and authorities, just explain what you hope to, who will be the players in that meeting and what do you hope to get out of it?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I’m not in a position to confirm anything about that meeting just yet. But, suffice to say that we are negotiating with the police to arrange a meeting to deal with this arrest warrant and the allegations against him.
TONY EASTLEY: Alright. Thank you very much for joining us this-morning on AM.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
TONY EASTLEY: Lawyer Jennifer Robinson who’s acting for Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking there from our London studio this morning.
The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says Mr Assange is entitled to the same rights as any other Australian citizen.
This includes the right to return to Australia and also to receive consular assistance while he is overseas if that is requested.
Get ready for a forthcoming legal battle and we’re right there:
Uncertainty surrounded Julian Assange‘s legal future last night as the WikiLeaks founder agreed to meet British police to discuss allegations of sexual assault against him in Sweden. Assange was not arrested last night, but that remains a possibility after the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) received a European arrest warrant (EAW) from Sweden.
Assange’s lawyers said he had not been formally charged in Sweden, where he faces the sex allegations. But under the EAW system, a warrant can only be issued once a charge has been made.
Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish officials, and could consent to return there to co-operate with their investigation. While the EAW’s legal status is uncertain, once validated by British authorities Assange’s arrest would be inevitable and he would have to brought before a magistrate “as soon as practicable”, or in most cases within 24 hours. If arrested Assange will appear before Westminster magistrates.
A key issue will be whether Assange is released on bail during that period. His lawyers are reported to be putting together a generous package, including a security of at least £100,000 and a surety – where third parties guarantee to pay the court if he absconds. However, the allegations facing Assange are serious in Swedish law and it is often more difficult to secure bail for these.
Assange’s lawyers are disputing the credibility of the allegations and the motive behind Sweden’s decision to investigate the matter further, after prosecutors dropped it earlier this year, and are likely to challenge the grounds for extradition.
But if extradited to Sweden under the EAW, Assange will be vulnerable to other extradition requests from countries including the US. The US has an extradition treaty with Sweden dating back to 1960s, when the two countries agreed to “make more effective the cooperation of the two countries in the repression of crime.” Extradition under the treaty is likely to face a number of obstacles, not least the fact that the likely charges facing Assange in the US – under the Espionage Act or other legislation protecting national security – are not included in the exhaustive list of offences set out in the law. There may also be issues of jurisdiction, since the offences which Assange is accused of did not take place in the US.Even if Assange’s case falls outside the scope of Sweden’s treaty with the US, there would still be scope for the country to agree to his extradition to the US.
Swedish law permits extradition more generally to countries outside Europe, although the process is subject to safeguards, including a ban on extradition for “political offences” or where the suspect has reason to fear persecution on account of their membership of a social group or political beliefs.
Any extradition from Sweden to the US could only take place after the current proceedings were concluded. With Assange’s lawyers intending to dispute those proceedings on all grounds, it seems the prospect of any extradition to the US remains some way away.