Julian Assange: Did he do it?
Julian Assange, the Australian who founded Wikileaks that has exposed many countries around the world by leaking state secrets and embarrassed many world powers by exposing their ugly underbellies has been accused of rape of two Swedish women in a bizarre case of character assassination. The weird activist says this was a ploy to silence him. Today we bring you the nitty-gritty of the rape allegations.
In mid-August 2010, Julian Assange arrived at Stockholm Airport. He was on his way to a conference he’d been invited to, run by ‘The Brotherhood’, a leftist Christian faction of Sweden’s Social Democrat Party. As Assange made his way out of the spacious airport, he might have had a pause to stop and check the credentials of the person he would be dealing with at the conference. Assange has a brilliant mind, but he does get a touch of the Bazza McKenzies about him at times, and though he exudes an air of worldliness, he has an extraordinary naivete, trusting people he’d be best to steer away from.
If he googled Anna Ardin he’d have come up with a blog entry written by her entitled: ‘ Seven Steps to Legal Revenge on a Cheating Lover’. It was potentially far more damaging for Assange than his fears about a CIA hit squad. Not that Ardin wasn’t suspect in that area too. Though she’d been called a leftist, she’d been connected with ‘US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups in Cuba’. By the time that information emerged, Sweden had issued a warrant for Assange’ arrest on allegations of rape and sexual molestation.
As Assange traveled in to Stockholm he had plenty to occupy his mind. The possibility that Iceland might not be the safe haven he originally hoped for WikiLeaks had began to concern him. There were questions about how close the Icelandic government was to the United States and, on a personal level, his relationship with Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir had cooled considerably, and was even hostile at times. Sweden was in many ways a Scandinavian mirror image of Iceland. It had good infrastructure, excellent communication systems and, at time, better laws to protect journalists.
These laws offered an unusual protection to sources. Based on Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act, whose origins trace back to 1766, journalists are legally forbidden to reveal a confidential source unless it involves direct threat to national security or treason. While the laws covered newspapers and magazines, they didn’t automatically give protection to the electronic media and that included organizations like WikiLeaks. Assange would need to register WikiLeaks as a media organization in Sweden, and to do that he needed to be a resident of the country.
In the meantime, WikiLeaks would have to make do with the kind offering from the Swedish Pirate Party-a legitimate political organization in Sweden with a member in the European Parliament. It offered to donate servers and bandwidth to WikiLeaks for free of charge, until WikiLeaks registration was approved. It would also provide technicians to make sure that the servers were maintained and kept in working order. What was almost attractive to Assange was that the Pirate Party planned to set up an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer anonymous Internet connections. The organization would offer anonymity by not storing a copy of its users Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, a unique identification number used to locate every computer, mobile phone or other device on the Internet at any given time to track everything from illegal downloads to terrorism suspects.
The robust laws protection freedom of expression in Sweden are matched by equally tough laws that protects the right of the individual. They grew out of the feminist movement of the 1960s and extended themselves to the whole gamut of sexual activity. These laws protect the rights of both partners during sex, but it is accepted that the laws are designed to allow women to decide what kind of sex they want and under what circumstances. Sweden might have strong laws enshrining what might at first look like libertarian values, with the age of consent at fifteen, but they are balanced by strict rules relating to sexual conduct. In his search to find the perfect environment for his WikiLeaks endeavour, Assange seemed to have missed a few things that might have been useful for him to understand.
One thing Assange has never had to concern himself with is where he will spend the night, and Stockholm was no exception. Ardin was so pleased he had agreed to speak at a conference where she was the publicist, she offered him a bed at her apartment. What happened next is rather routine for Julian: he bedded the hostess. It’s difficult to know what might have been had he left it at that. On Saturday at the conference Assange addressed, he met a younger woman, a 26-year-old photographer named Sofia Wilen. They flirted and then went off to the movies together. Nothing much unusual about that. But by the time Ardin seemed so taken by her lover she sent out a tweet that she was looking for a couple of places at a crayfish party-a more formal version of Australian BBQ, with lobsters instead of meat, but with just as much grog. Discovering there were no free places around town she threw her own-just for Julian.
On the following Monday, Assange and Wilen went to Wilen’s home in Enkoping, an industrial town that is the birthplace of the adjustable spanner and the base for the Swedish Army’s electronics warfare center. Assange stayed the night and they had sex. The trouble seemed to start for Julian, as is often the case with relationships, when the two women started talking- or in this case Wilen sent a text to Ardin and they met. It might have been a coincidence but it seems unlikely that subsequently Ardin asked Assange to move out of the apartment. The following Friday the two women went to a Stockholm police station. There they told their stories and the prosecutor- a stand-in during the Swedish summer break-concluded there may be grounds for Wilen to pursue charges of rape and ofredande, a misdemeanour which can be translated as ‘annoyance’, and for Ardin, a charge of ofredande alone against Assange.
In a country so heavily regulated by the right to privacy it came as a surprise to Assange that within hours of the two women going to the police station, the local Stockholm tabloid, Espressen, splashed the rape allegations across the front page. Contacted by the paper, the duty prosecutor had confirmed the allegations, an act that is illegal under Swedish law. The duty prosecutor was later quoted as not being aware that they had broken the law.
Within the next few days the story took on a life of its own. On holiday, Eva Finne, the chief prosecutor for the Stockholm region, heard the Assange case on the news- and called for the file to be couriered to her. She could find no evidence of rape in Wilen’s case- and struck it from the charge sheet leaving just the lesser offense of molestation.
It was about this time that the allegations against Assange moved into the surreal, where the Swedish law protecting the rights of the individual gave no protection at all. Assange, who planned to use the Internet as a force for openness in the world, now became its victim. A Swedish feminist blog called Revell, run in part by Ardin, posted an article warning: ‘Even WikiLeaks heroes can do crappy things’. It gave a one-sided story of events, alleging Assange had continued having sex also produced a trap for her. Seemingly spurned by a fiance some time ago, Ardin had posted a strange list of how to get even. It bore striking resemblance to what would happen to Assange. Headlined, Seven Steps to Legal Revenge’ by Anna Ardin, it starts off in a conciliatory way.
A similar list had been published on a US website as a joke, but Ardin made it clear she was serious. When chided about it in a comment online she said she had been broken-hearted by a fiance and wanted to pay him back. By the end of August this cyber theatre of the absurd became even weirder. Ardin and Wilen had now linked up with a lawyer, Claes Borgstrom, Sweden’s former equality ombudsman, famous for proposing that Sweden boycott the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany because of an expected surge in prostitution during the month-long tournament. The idea was immediately rejected by the Swedish soccer federation.
Borgstrom took the case of Wilen and Ardin to the head of a special unit that focuses on sex crime laws, two hundred kilometres away in Gothenburg. In Sweden it is not unusual to shop around for an opinion. The Swedish law allows complainants to take their cases to other representatives in the ombudsman system, and that’s what they had done. The head of the unit, Marianne Ny, began working on the case-including re-examining the rape allegations which had already been thrown out. To complicate matters even more, Assange was now interviewed by the original prosecutor’s office on the lesser charges. He must have been feeling confident because on the same day, he applied for a work and residency which would allow him to base WikiLeaks in Sweden with its protection of journalism shield laws. Ironically, the laws he wanted to use to expose what he saw as large international crimes were the same ones protecting journalists who were writing about his personal life and gathering information about him from administration insiders who were themselves possibly breaking the law.
The tweet that Ardin has posted the night after she’d had sex with Assange, expressing the thrill of meeting ‘cool’ people, as well as her ‘Seven Steps to Legal Revenge’, mysteriously disappeared from the Internet. But Ardin had kept on thing: the condom that she said had broken while she was having sex with Assange. Whether she retained it as a souvenir, a trophy, or as evidence for what she might come up in the future, it’s not known.
When Jonsdottir made a public call for Assange to be replaced as the spokesperson for WikiLeaks while the investigation was underway in Sweden, Assange took it badly, interpreting it as a disloyalty. But for Jonsdottir, who says she had ‘known him quite intimately for a chunk of time’, his response didn’t come as a surprise.
Assange’s mother Christine believed her son interacted well with women because he had been brought up by a single mother, and that women liked men raised by single women ‘because they were comfortable about women’. Jonsdottir had a different view. She noticed that Assange had what she described a ‘bit of an Aussie attitude towards women’. Jonsdottir had been married to and Australian. She said she was not saying that all Australian men were like that, but she believed there was a cultural attitude that jarred with Swedish women. Assange had come up against what she called the ‘Scandinavian female’. And while not all women in Scandinavia were like that either, they were ‘extremely firm about their rights’. If a guy acts in a certain way to a Scandinavian female, he is going to encounter big trouble, particularly when it comes to sexuality, and boundaries.’ She believed that Assange had run into a cultural challenge. People were much ‘wilder in Australia’, she said. the ‘wild streak’ was ‘very very strong in Julian’. Jonsdottir described Assange as a ‘wild child’, adding it was as if ‘he’s just come out of the jungle, or something, in a good way’. She said he was ‘uninhibited’, which is very different from Scandinavians who want to ‘organize their freedom’. But her praise fell well short of adulation. Jonsdottir said that Assange did not know how to relate to women unless it was to ‘flirt’ with them, which was a game and a ‘perfect way to get into trouble’. Did he flirt with you? ‘Of course’. A lot? ‘I don’t want to get into that, it’s too personal.’ Assange does not deny he’s a flirt and reveals it’s part of the tactic he uses. ‘What it means with some women in positions of power is that you can encourage them to talk to you for longer,’ he said. He described ‘flirtatious conversations’ as being ‘enjoyable’. he added that it hadn’t ‘backfired too many times’, but when it did-‘ Oh boy!’
What is perhaps not so attractive is that Assange was also given to boasting about his various relationships. According to Domscheit-Berg, after a conference in 2008 he went out to dinner and bragged to the table that ‘he had children on all continents and doesn’t pay for them’. Domscheit-Berg said he was left wondering ‘what is the point of boasting about that stuff; that’s lame’. For Domscheit-Berg the desire to impress people in that way was ‘really weird’.
When I asked Assange how many children he had he wouldn’t comment. He said ‘the children are under threat’ because of his WikiLeaks work and explained that was why he could not talk about them. Domscheit-Berg claims that Assange had also giben him advice when he met his wife that he should ‘get as much dirt’ on her as she could. Schmitt asked: ‘What the hell. Why? To which Assange explained that he had to ‘have some leverage in case I run into a problem with her’.
Sitting talking to Assange, it is easy to understand his attraction. He’s witty, charming, intelligent and passionate. He’s also intellectually seductive and not just to women. Jonsdottir says she has ‘seen guys that were critical of him’ meet Assange and be turned around in a few minutes. ‘It’s very hypnotic,’ she said. It was the same sort of admiration when a person was ‘blindingly inlove’. But when the charm wore off there was a very different Assange, a Domscheit-Berg would discover when their close relationship soured irreparably.