Dec 19, 2010 12 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
“Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.” – Woman raped by Julian Assange
LAWYERS for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder.
Incriminating police files were published in the British newspaper that has used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.
In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange’s closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”
Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. “It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position,” he told a colleague.
“I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing – trying to make Julian look bad.”
Mr Assange is facing criminal allegations in Sweden over claims by two women that he sexually assaulted them while he was in the country earlier this year.
Another supporter close to the WikiLeaks founder said the leak appeared designed by the authorities in Sweden to jeopardise Mr Assange’s defence. “There has been a selective smear through the disclosure of material. That material, in Swedish, was passed to a journalist at The Guardian,” a source said. “The timing appears to have been cynically calculated to have the material published in the middle of the bail application and the appeal.”
Mr Assange, 39, was arrested and held in custody at Wandsworth prison in south London after Sweden issued an extradition request. He was released on bail last week after a High Court judge dismissed an appeal by the British authorities, on behalf of the Swedes, to overturn an earlier decision to free him.
The Australian was told that he could walk free on a surety of £275,000 ($432,305). The money came from nine celebrity backers including Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger.
In an editorial, The Guardian defended its decision to report on the incriminating police files. It said having been given access to the official papers, it had a duty to present a “brief summary” of the sex allegations against Mr Assange, together with his response.
Others were less enthused by The Guardian’s treatment of its top source, pointing out that this is someone whom the newspaper has elevated into hero status as a campaigner for freedom of information. Some commentators point to the apparent hypocrisy of some of Mr Assange’s supporters, such as the journalist John Pilger, bemoaning the Swedish police leaks, given their campaign for a man whose life is devoted to publishing confidential material. “Hoist by his own petard,” said one observer.
Ever since the sex assault claims surfaced, Mr Assange has claimed that they are part of a conspiracy by the Swedes and the Americans to punish him for having masterminded the leak of the US cables. His lawyers, including Mark Stephens, are confident they can stop Mr Assange’s extradition on both legal and human rights grounds. They point out that the offence of “minor rape”, with which he may be charged, has no equivalent in British law because the accused can be guilty even if a woman consents.
A spokesman for The Guardian said: “Julian is not a confidential source. The argument that the papers involved with the WikiLeaks cables should not report criticism of him is one all journalists would find ridiculous.”
The Sunday Times