Publicerad: 2010-11-21, Uppdaterad: 2011-11-02
In the 1980's William Butt was one of the country's most celebrated show business personalities. In 1993 his career came to a sudden halt when he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for alleged rapes against 9 women. Butt has always vehemently maintained his innocence, blaming a media witch-hunt and flaws in the Swedish legal system for his wrongful incarceration. His claims have gained total support from several of Sweden's top legal experts including two Supreme Court Judges and some of the county's most influential politicians and journalists.
For starters let's clarify one thing about the Julian Assange case: There is nobody in Sweden who believes in any of the alleged conspiracy theories involving the CIA or other foreign agencies or governments. Its just another modern day "Swedish date rape" case, the difference being that the object of attention is an internationally known individual. The similarities between this and most common everyday sex cases in Sweden are overwhelming!
Let's take quick look at what has happened so far :
Two Swedish women discovered that they both had sexual intercourse with Julian Assange. One of them had unsuccessfully tried to get him to take a HIV test. After comparing notes the women went to the Police, not with the intention of filing charges but to seek advice as to how they could legally enforce Assange to take a HIV test. After hearing the women's stories, the interviewing police officer referred the matter to the duty Public Prosecutor. The trigger-happy duty prosecutor issued an arrest order, which within minutes rocketed Julian Assange into worldwide international media focus as an accused sex offender. That order was subsequently overruled by one of Sweden's most senior prosecutors, Eva Finné who ruled that the women's stories didn't justify the need to open an investigation against Assange. Subsequent to this, a top Stockholm lawyer, Mr Claes Borgström, a staunch feminist, who was appointed to protect the legal interests of the plaintiffs, filed an appeal.
The case took a bizarre twist again when another Prosecutor Marianne Ny re-opened the case and declared that the Wikileakes profile was wanted for questioning. There are various claims from both parties as to why this "questioning" was unable to be carried out and consequently the matter was brought before the Stockholm district Court who last Thursday issued an "in absentia" warrant for Julian Assange to be taken into custody so that a police interview can take place. The court's motivation included what prosecutor Marianne Ny described as the "risk that Assange would abscond " and that he could "interfere with the continued investigation".
That is the situation so far.
So what happens next? On the surface it looks as if the accusations against Assange won't hold, but to legal experts in Sweden it is apparent that Julian Assange runs the risk of not only being indicted, but also tried and found guilty of these sex allegations - even if he is innocent! This may sound absurd and it probably comes as a surprise to foreign observers, so it warrants an explanation.
In Sweden today, a man can be arrested and immediately locked up only on the verbal accusations of a woman if the Police and prosecutor "believe" her! But he can only be remanded in custody for a longer period or charged if there is "some other evidence" which supports the plaintiff's claims. This supporting evidence can consist of a number of things ranging from forensic evidence right down to verbal testimonies from witnesses. This all sounds fine and it seems fair, but the problem which has flabbergasted Swedish defence lawyers during recent years is how prosecutors and in particular the courts have overestimated the supporting evidences in several cases. Recently, a famous naturalized Swedish Opera Singer of Chilean origin was declared guilty for a rape against a young woman which was reported to the Police eight (8!) years after it allegedly took place! The only evidence other than the plaintiff's word consisted of testimonies from two witnesses in whom the plaintiff hade "allegedly" confided about the "alleged" rape shortly after it was "alleged" to have taken place. The court ruled, as is almost always the case, that the plaintiff's testimony was "believable".
Therefore, in the Julian Assange case there is a risk that if both women claim that he raped or sexually molested them, and as long as they are considered believable by the court , that their respective testimonies could serve as the supporting evidence required for guilty verdicts in both indictments. In other words both women can claim that they told each other about what happened immediately after it allegedly happened and as long as they relate this to the court in a convincing manner Assange could be felled. According to Mrs Kerstin Koorti, a leading Stockholm lawyer with decades of experience in working with sex cases, this is exactly how Swedish Judges and Jurors rule in such cases. Koorti and her colleagues are not the only ones who claim this. In a 500-page report entitled "FELAKTIGT DÖMDA" (Wrongful Convictions) which was published by the Swedish Chancellor of Justice in 2006, a dozen cases pertaining to men who had been the victims of extremely serious miscarriages of justice were analysed only to reveal similar flaws in the legal system. Of these twelve cases whose judgements the Supreme Court had overturned and astronomical compensation was paid to the wrongfully convicted, eight were sex cases, all of which, at their beginnings, had been handled in almost exactly the same way as the Julian Assange case is being handled today. It is not untrue to say that the Swedish general public is somewhat sceptical whenever a case like the Assange story hits the news headlines. The Police, Prosecutors and courts don't enjoy the general public's confidence in these cases as much as in other types of cases. The media has seen to it that the public is well informed of the flaws in the judicial system when it comes to these type of cases, and most judgements in rape cases are viewed with some apprehension, especially given the fact that many guilty rapists go scot free due to similar flaws in the system. It would be correct to say that Sweden hasn't really got it's act together when it comes to dealing with these type of cases.
In a statement to Swedish journalists, Julian Assange's British lawyer Mr Mark Stephens has accused the Swedish prosecutors of carrying out a witch-hunt and for failing to seek the truth about what happened between Assange and these women. But what Mark Stephens obviously doesn't know is that the "truth" is not considered so relevant in Swedish law. What is relevant is "what can be proved beyond any shadow of doubt" - even if "what can be proved " turns out several years later to have been wrong! Furthermore, a secure precedent in this type of case has only quite recently been set by the Supreme Court (3rd July 2009) Prior to that date there was a sort of unwritten custom which had it roots in an old Supreme Court judgement from 1988. That precedent was somewhat unclear and hence many courts around the country ended up interpreting it in various different ways, sometimes convicting innocent men and more than often acquitting guilty perpetrators of sex crimes. This coupled with the tabloid medias bizarre obsession with the word "rape" created somewhat of a hysteria in Sweden during the past ten years. It is that hysteria which, according to many defence lawyers, has fuelled the Public Prosecutors to act in the way they have acted in cases like the Julian Assange case. The first prosecutor wanted to pursue the case. Another wanted to terminate it and the third one has reinstated the pursuit against Julian Assange. Foreign observers are wondering why the Swedish prosecutors have had all these conflicting views? The answer is that only one prosecutor alone has handled the case each time. It would perhaps be beneficial to the Swedish system if it were to introduce a system whereby three prosecutors could jointly decide about pursuance of cases such as Julian Assange's as per the "Grand Jury" system which is commonplace in the United States. It is not untrue to say that many defence lawyers and legal analysts in Sweden agree on the fact that the Swedish Pubic Prosecutor's Office's recent past is not exactly impressive when it comers to the manner in which it has handled sex cases.
Julian Assanges own conduct in this matter also adds to the confusion and raises a number of questions, not about his guilt or innocence but more about his somewhat bizarre behaviour. He is said to have at least half a dozen cell phones and about a dozen email addresses, and yet everyone who knows him, (excluding his lawyer) claims that it is virtually impossible to get in touch with him! In his endeavour to constantly dodge the victims of his whistleblowing escapades, the Wikileakes leader often finds himself also dodging other people who have no connection with his working enterprises. This can only be interpreted as being part of his somewhat unusual personality which is described by the few people who have had contact with him in Sweden as being " scatter brained to say the least". Some have gone so far as to describe him as a socially handicapped internet genius!
Socially handicapped or not, it would perhaps benefit Julian Assange to set aside the opinions of his British lawyer and instead listen to his Swedish lawyer Mr Björn Hurtig, who is one of Sweden's best defence attorneys. But in a way , his refusal to return to Sweden to face these charges has been understandable because it is highly likely that Julian Assange, having the investigative talents he is equipped with, has already familiarized himself with the Swedish legal system's recent past and he probably realizes that there is a risk that he could be wrongfully sentenced here. As for the Swedish legal system - it's a good thing that the spotlight is being focused on how Sweden deals with these sex cases. It is also probably about time the world got insight into what is really happening in this well reputed Scandinavian nation which for almost a century has successfully launched itself as a protector of the individual citizen's human and legal rights. There is a Pandoras Box here in Stockholm and it is quite possible that the Julian Assange case is about to open it's lid.