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  August 13, 2015

Assange Denied the Right to Defend Himself Against Sexual Assault Allegations

By refusing to interview Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Swedish prosecutors denied the Wikileaks founder of his right to defend himself, says Carey Shenkman, attorney representing Julian Assange at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York
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Sharmini Peries - As a journalist and executive producer, Sharmini harnesses the power of research and policy institutions, independent media, social movements, universities and academics to form strategic partnerships for innovative programming at TRNN. Prior to joining TRNN, she served as the executive director of The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Royal Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario. Sharmini also worked as Economic and Trade Advisor to President Chavez and the government of Venezuela from 2003-2007. She has an MA and PhD (EBD) from York University (Canada).


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

With the statue of limitations coming due, Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into the sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because they could not interview him, they said, which is a prerequisite in Swedish law for charging a suspect. Assange said he was extremely disappointed that the Swedish prosecutors avoided hearing his side of the story. The rape allegations against Assange, however, still stand until 2020. Assange has been staying in Ecuador's London embassy since 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, and possibly the United States, under espionage charges.

Joining me now to explain the dropped charges and more is Carey Shenkman. He's an attorney representing Julian Assange with Michael Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Carey, thank you so much for joining us today.

CAREY SHENKMAN, ATTORNEY: Thank you Sharmini. Pleasure to be here.

PERIES: So Carey, give us a sense of what exactly happened. Was this a matter of statute of limitations, or did they really not have a case they could pursue?

SHENKMAN: Well it's absolutely, both, Sharmini. What happened today is after five years of doing nothing in Julian Assange's case, Swedish prosecutors finally today dropped most of the allegations against him. And I'll stress that those are merely allegations. Assange has not been charged with any crimes in Sweden. So that means that for the almost five years that Assange has been detained in various forms by Sweden in the United Kingdom, Assange hasn't been charged with any crime. And this is unacceptable in terms of the effect that it's had on his health, on his family life, and on his reputation.

PERIES: And what's next? First, will he now be able to leave the embassy?

SHENKMAN: Today's development does not mean that Assange can leave the embassy. The next step is that the whole case in Sweden needs to go away once and for all. It's completely outrageous at this point, because the Swedish courts have already said that this is a closed case. Nearly nine months ago the Swedish court of appeals criticized the prosecutor for failing to move the case forward. In May the Supreme Court, in a split decision, urged the prosecutor to advance the case. And here we are months later, and the prosecutor has still not come to London to question Assange.

This is absolutely unacceptable, because back then, months ago, there were four allegations. Now there's just one. It's a very different case now. The prosecutor has really shown in light of the urging of Ecuador, the United Kingdom, the Swedish courts, Assange and our whole legal team, despite the urging by so many parties to come to London, that the prosecutor isn't going to do it.

PERIES: I know you don't want to speculate here, but why is it that she doesn't want to come to the embassy to question him?

SHENKMAN: Well, Assange has been asking for years for the prosecutor to come to London. And one thing that I will shift focus on is what's been happening in the meantime during this whole investigation in Sweden, which has been a massive and unprecedented national security case in the United States against Assange.

Now, when we talk about the asylum that Assange enjoys in London, we're not talking about asylum from Sweden. We're talking about asylum from Sweden. We're talking about asylum from the United States. And Ecuador found that Assange has a well founded fear of persecution should he ever risk extradition to the United States. The United States confirmed in March, the U.S. federal court confirmed in March that there's an active and ongoing national security case against Assange. And just this past year over 50 free speech groups criticized the U.S. Justice Department for continuing this investigation because of the effects it could have for freedom of the press and the newsgathering process.

Just yesterday we had a major development. Chelsea Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks source, was threatened with indefinite solitary confinement. Now, Manning is currently serving a 35-year-sentence after being court martialed for allegedly disclosing documents to WikiLeaks. And just yesterday we learned that the army actually wants to charge her--and you won't believe it, but for having expired toothpaste, for asking to see a lawyer, and for having a copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover. For these trivial things she's threatened with indefinite solitary confinement, which the United Nations and an international consensus agree is a form of torture.

So Assange has every right to fear extradition to the United States, where he will seriously risk similar, likely worse, treatment.

PERIES: Carey Shenkman, from the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. I thank you for joining us today, and we will be following these cases, and I hope you join us in the future.

SHENKMAN: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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