In his decision on Thursday, Judge Howard Riddle, district judge of Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in South London found in favor of Marianne Ny of the Swedish authorities that the Australian national be extradited to Sweden to face interrogation for alleged sexual offences.
The evidence against the prosecution had strengths that Judge Riddle cited in his judgment. For instance, the Swedish lawyer Brita Sundberg-Weitman’s expert report argued that proper procedures had not been followed, citing the disproportionate nature of the European Arrest Warrant. The prosecutor was accused of malice and improper motives. Amongst other problems was the very public nature of the case against Assange. Confidentiality has been breached by details leaked to the press. He has effectively suffered a well-directed character assassination in Sweden.
Nor was she the only one to take aim at Ny. For one thing, there was much head scratching as to why no effort was made on her part to interview Assange once a statement of rape was taken. For witness Bjorn Hurtig, such foot dragging was inexplicable. Any credible lawyer was entitled, at that point, to regard the case as closed.
Riddle claims he is following the book on matters regarding extradition between Sweden and Britain that have been in place for some time. But not even Sundberg-Weitman’s critique of the Swedish procedures could sway him. No collateral purpose could be discerned in Ny’s case and the prosecution case held up.
Assange’s response was to be expected, calling the court’s response a ‘rubber stamping process’. ‘There was no consideration during this entire process as to the merits of the allegations made against me.’ His lawyers have taken aim at Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt for creating something of a ‘toxic atmosphere’. Judge Riddle was not convinced. ‘Politicians,’ he simply asserted, ‘may speak inappropriately.’
Assange was determined to throw the book out a long time ago, as his tracts on free information and authoritarian government suggest. Assange sees information webs of conspiracy, and these conspiracies will only ever be destroyed if those links of information are severed. There is little in this case that will make him change his mind – the conspiracy of judicial enforcement is afoot.
There are indeed very troubling points with the case. One salient point is that no charges have actually even been filed. In the second instance, there is nothing stopping the Swedish authorities conducting their own interrogations in Britain. The British authorities are bound to be accommodating in this regard.
As one of the witnesses Sven-Eric Alhem noted, a prosecutor should not have sought to arrest Assange only for purposes of questioning as long as other options were available. He should know, having served as the Chief District Prosecutor in Stockholm and subsequently Director for the Regional Prosecution Authority in the same city.
And on the issue of the closed trial for rape, should it ever go to court? In the words of counsel for Assange, Geoffrey Robertson, ‘Any sense of fair play – that justice must be seen to be done – revolts at this Swedish practice.’ For that reason, the defense argued that Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights would be violated should Assange be extradited. Judge Riddle fobbed it off. ‘If the Swedish practice was in fundamental and flagrant breach of human rights I would expect there to be a body of cases against Sweden confirming that.’ The rest, it seems, is silence.
Assange did not do himself any favors by leaving the country in the first place. His departure played heavily on the judge’s mind. But the next stage of the process seems a bit unnecessary, given the means open to those in Stockholm. The legal saga is set to continue, with an appeal process to be undertaken to see if the extradition order can be reversed. Assange has become a figure, not merely in the debate on abolishing state secrets, but in the matter of law reform in Sweden.