Assange: safeguards and assurances?

Submitted by Matthew on 19 September, 2012 - 9:28

The crux of this matter appears to be resting on whether Assange would be safer from extradition to the US in Sweden.

His detractors claim that he would be, and claim that Assange’s defence to the contrary is a smokescreen to avoid the rape charges. Several counter arguments have been presented.

The first of these notes Sweden’s unblemished human rights record and their ratification of the European Convention of Human Rights (Owen Jones, The Independent, 17 August). Jones and others have failed to mention the fierce criticism the Swedish authorities came under when in 2001 they handed over two asylum seekers to the CIA who were later tortured in Egypt under the United States’ programme of extraordinary rendition.

In the same article Jones cites David Allen Greene, an “expert” who has been keen to lead the Assange lynch mob. Greene published an article called “Legal myths about the Assange extradition” (New Statesman, 20 August) in this which he wrongly repeats the claim of Sweden’s foreign minister, who released a statement that the Swedish courts were independent of the Government. This is clearly untrue in extradition cases as is evident from a cursory glance at the Swedish government website:

“The government can however, refuse extradition even if the Supreme Court has not declared against extradition, as the law states that if certain conditions are fulfilled, a person ‘may’ be extradited — not ‘shall’ be extradited.” (bit.ly/fWOpyf)

In Solidarity 254, Mark Osborn states that: “It is probably the case that he will be safer in Sweden than in the UK (Swedish legal safeguards against unjustified extradition to the US are stronger than Britain’s)”.

On closer inspection this does not seem so certain, especially given the Swedish governments’ ignorance of such safeguards in their capitulation to US rendition requests previously. Elsewhere these “safeguards” include the legal requirement for the British Home Secretary to approve a third-party extradition request, hardly comforting for Assange, given the close alliances of the three nations concerned.

The ECHR in this case is doubtful to offer any solace, as the US is quite unlikely to be naive enough to make an extradition request to Sweden on a charge where the punishment may breach the convention.

If Osborn is correct when he states: “[Assange’s] ability to stay out of a US jail will largely rest on the campaign that can be built in his defence…” (letters, Solidarity 256), then it follows that he would actually be better grounded in the UK to avoid ending up in a US prison, where he has a great deal more public support than in Sweden. Accepting this point seems to contradict the idea that Assange would be safer from the US in Sweden, rather than the UK.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable that the Swedish (or for that matter the British or American) authorities give Assange assurances of some kind. This could be as simple as publicly reasserting their commitment to the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, specifically the part which explicitly prohibits extradition in the case of political offences, without any specific reference to the case in hand that could prejudice judicial proceedings. This would at least cause great concern amongst their own populations and demonstrate the existence of a fault line between convention and reality if such a statement was contradicted later on.

The right to recourse of justice for his accusers does not trump Assange’s right to avoid being exposed to charges that are politically motivated.

It is right therefore to argue that he faces the allegations against him in Sweden, and not contradictory to suggest that he is given assurances to protect him from those forces seeking to punish him for his actions politically.

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