Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Search Of A Solution. Refuting Elisabeth Massi Fritz SvD statements on Assange case

A new look into the political motivations of the Swedish EAW against Assange, and on other misconceptions around the case

By Marcello Ferrada de Noli, PhD, Professor Emeritus
Author of the book "Human Rights Issues In The Swedish Case VS . Assange"

In Search of a Solution

An important debate is ongoing in Sweden's leading media, in search of a solution to the deadlock in the Assange case. Julian Assange, who is not charged with any crime, is yet beginning his fourth year under house arrest, for which he is staying at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, after being given political asylum. The asylum to the WikiLeaks founder was granted ensuing Sweden's refusal to give assurances that Assange would not be handed over to the U.S. – should such request be received by the Swedish authorities. However, the UK does not allow him to leave the Embassy and travel to Ecuador, because a Swedish prosecutor is demanding that he should be questioned in Sweden.

Likewise, the two women who filed accusations against Assange are still waiting in Sweden for statements from their lawyers, Claes Bogström (of the firm Bodström & Borgström) and Elisabeth Massi Fritz, on whether anything can happen (in terms of a prosecutor’s decision) to move the case forward. In addition, there seems to be a broad consensus in Sweden that such a protracted procedure, together with the peculiar mismanagement of the case, is further harming Sweden's international reputation.

Known personalities in the Judiciary, former prosecutors, lawyers and members of parliament have contributed with constructive proposals. In April 2013, Justice Stefan Lindskog (from Sweden’s Supreme Court) expressed in a lecture at Adelaide University in Australia, that it is possible for a Swedish prosecutor to question Assange in London. He said, literally: “I would like to comment upon the possibility of the prosecutor to go to London. It is possible that the prosecutor could travel to London and interrogate him there. I have no answer to the question why that hasn’t happened.” [1]

Johan Pehrson MP, member of the Justice Committee and the political spokesperson for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), told Swedish National Television SvT: "This is an exceptional case. Therefore, one can wonder if the prosecutor should not turn on the stones again, to see if we can get this thing out of the world”, [2] The chairman of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg, was also interviewed in the SvT program Agenda. As well as characterising the entire affair as a "circus”, Anne Ramberg said that the prosecutor should simply go to London. Period. [3]

In an article published in Svenska Dagbladet, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, resents such proposals. She protests on the very existence of the media debate on whether the "Assange case should be closed down." And she is critical of the mere fact that Johan Pehrson MP has spoken out in the SvT program. Lawyer Massi Fritz says in SvD: "Criminal cases should be handled in court, not in the media", and she adds: "Nor should a prosecutor be subjected to political pressure or let the media affect their actions. " [4 ] Below, I respond to a variety of statements in Massi Fritz's SvD article.

Elizabeth Massi Fritz is right about requesting that the general democratic principle she formulates above (on the separation of powers) is implemented in full; I have recently commented on this important issue in Open Letter To Prosecutor-General Anders Perklev. However, in her SvD piece Massi Fritz blends together various aspects - which in the end contradicts her version. The first aspect relates to the role of the media; the second one to the behaviour of politicians in the case.
On the media role: a) One aspect is the central duty the media has in keeping the public updated on relevant events, not least about subjects that are important to Sweden's international reputation – like the Assange case. And that is what the Agenda program has accomplished; both versions were heard. b) Another aspect is the discussion on whether the media indulges in any special treatment of the parties in such disputes. I will come back to that point.

Concerning the politicians' intervention in the case: a) One thing is that a politician (as MP Pehrson did) proposes measures to legally terminate the "circus" - as the Bar Association president referred to - a situation that in the long run can be harmful to the nations' interests, and b) A completely different thing is if a politician (particularly politicians within government) produces public statements in support of only one side of  the dispute. It is exactly this kind of behaviour that can cast a shadow over the image of the independence of the nation's legal system.

Precisely because Massi Fritz is right when she states in SvD that "We are all equal under the law, it is a prerequisite for the rule of law”, she must also deplore, for example, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's partial intervention in favour of the plaintiffs in articles published simultaneously by DN and Aftonbladet - where he also wrongly alleged that Assange has been indicted. Quote:

“We have an independent Judiciary which also in this case acted according to Swedish law. One has even public-indicted Julian Assange on allegations of rape”. And, “I can only regret that the rights and position of women weigh so lightly when it comes to this type of questions compared to other types of theories brought forward.” [5]. However, the fact remains that Julian Assange has not been charged.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister emphasized in a program about the Assange case at Studio Ett: "we take very seriously allegations about rape, because there are also elements that try to reduce how we have evolved, and stands for, a good law in this case”. [6] This, unfortunately, was interpreted as though the Assange case was of symbolic significance to the authorities. This attitude has previously been expressed by representatives of Sweden's feminist movement, which promotes the enhancing of rape-related legislation. The promotion of Sweden in the international community as a country with a modern legislation, should be praised. However, if this PR endeavour is enforced at the expense of individual human rights, the entire effort is compromised.

On Swedish media-harassment.

Regarding what Massi Fritz calls “media-harassment”: to the best of my knowledge, in the Swedish media there has never been the smallest negative or condescending commentary about the plaintiffs in the case. They have never been "vilified" by any program or article written by journalists working in the Swedish media.

Conversely, in the judgement issued in Belmarsh Court in London (City of Westminster Magistrates' Court) regarding the transfer of Assange on 24/2/2011, Judge Riddle wrote literally: "There has been considerable adverse publicity in Sweden for Mr Assange, in the popular press, the television and in parliament (by the Swedish Prime Minister)" [end of quote]. [7]

In a study to which I referred in Newsmill, an article the site headed "Professor: media reporting of Assange untruthful and uniform”, I reported an analysis on 117 consecutive publications in the Swedish press during the period 17/1 - 2/17/2011. The results showed that, amongst the articles that directly referred to Julian Assange's personal character, or made hints about Assange’s personality traits (forty per cent of the total articles), significantly more articles (72 per cent) did so with the use of hostile or condescending terms, in contrast with articles using positive terms (28 per cent). [8]

The statistical analysis of these variables revealed a ratio difference of 0.38, pointing to a significant over-representation of negative reviews ad hominem on Assange. The findings, as reported in the above-mentioned article, were also received in open court at Belmarsh Court in London. They have never been refuted by other researchers, or by the media referred to in the study.

Why are political dissidents granted political asylum?

Lawyer Massi Fritz states, referring to Julian Assange's situation: "It's about a man who has locked himself in an embassy in London, for which Marianne Ny routinely is blamed for being responsible.”
I shall look into Marianne Ny’s role, but first I would like to put the record straight about the meaning of political asylum. Individuals seeking asylum in embassies of countries that respect human rights, must indeed have reasons - strong reasons. For example, the Swedish Embassy in Chile received hundreds of dissidents who preferred to "lock themselves in an embassy" rather than risk arrest, prosecution, or even death.

The reasons put forward by the individuals seeking asylum are subject to careful consideration by governments. In this case, a sovereign state, Ecuador, gave asylum to Julian Assange because they had information that indicated that Assange may be at risk of being extradited to the United States. In fact, Sweden has granted extradition to the United States every single time there has been a request, on the condition that the person sought is in Swedish territory.


A new look into the political motivations of the Swedish EAW against Assange.

In the original version published on 5 February (still unchanged when I retrieved it online at 16.00 on 7 February), Massi Fritz stated:
“Assange left the country the same day that he, for the second time has been detained in absence”.[9]

EMF in SvD Brännpunkt 5 Feb 2014

Thus the law-abiding Swedes are made to believe that the EAW was issued because Assange had twice ignored Ny’s call to come to the interrogation meeting!

However, in the English version (for the international audience), Massi Fritz had to take away the notion of a “twice-fugitive Julian Assange”. She changed the text to:

“(Assange) disappeared from Sweden on the same day as he was detained in absentia. He has subsequently refused to return. This resulted in Marianne Ny, the prosecutor for the case, issuing a European Arrest Warrant for Assange. [10]

There is some remarkable aspects in Massi Fritz’s statements. On the one hand she says that the "detention in absentia" order was issued before Assange left Sweden; then she suddenly says that because Assange left and subsequently refused to return, Marianne Ny issued the detention order in EAW form; but without mentioning that Assange never got any notification about such "detention in absentia" while still in Sweden. Besides, Massi Fritz hides the fact - which is essential in the context of the event she is taking up - about that Assange made himself available for interrogation by the prosecutor office. Before he had to leave for his scheduled meeting in Berlin [11], Julian Assange presented through his lawyer some alternative dates to the prosecutor. One of the dates put forward by Assange was refused by prosecutor NY on the excuse that "the interrogation leader was on sick leave". This, as if she could not arrange one among the twenty thousand police officers that have received training in criminal interrogations at the Police Academy of Sweden. [12]
All of the above has made me rethink the Assange case.  This is an account of the EAW Swedish itinerary.
  • Assange arrived to the airport around noon, and even chosen to change to a later SAS flight of his preferences.  He finally left Arlanda Airport for Berlin Tegel at 17.15. Latest around 16.55 he would have gone through airport security where, with the usual heavy police presence, staff at the gate leading to the departure hall checked his passport (if not already checked at the desk), boarding card, etc. Besides, the police have all the passengers lists in advance.
  • According to the prosecutor office in Gothenburg, Assange was “detained in absentia” already at 14.15 on 27 September 2010. [13] Normally, such order goes to all police units in the country. Why wasn't he detained at the airport? It could not be that they missed his identity. Quite the opposite: because they knew his identity at the airport desk or at the control gate, the police (or government officials, or whoever agency was operating) managed to take the laptops from Assange’s checked-in suitcase. [14] Besides, he stayed around five hours at the airport's premises. They just couldn't have missed him.
  • Assange was never informed about the “detention in absentia”. Further, Assange's laywer Björn Hurtig had obtained an agreement from the prosecutor Marianne Ny that Julian Assange "was free to leave Sweden". [15]
  • In fact, Assange's lawyer received the communication on the "detention warrant" issued my Marianne Ny (the warrant that Elisabeth Massi Fritz is writing about in connection to Assange's departure for Berlin on the 27 of September), as late as the 30 September 2010. This means three days after that it was issued by the same Marianne Ny. 
  • In support of this claim I refer here to the Supreme Court document “Agreed Statement of Facts And Issues. Between: Julian Paul Assange (Applicant) V. Swedish Prosecution Authority (Respondent)”, hearings 1-2 Feb 2012,. In Item 17, page 5, it reads: "On 30th September 2010, the Appellant’s counsel [Björn Hurtig] was advised of the existence of the arrest warrant."
So what were the dialectics of Sweden’s EAW?

My conclusion is that the real target of the EAW was not the detention of Assange, but the creation of an extradition process.
What was to be gained by this?

The EAW immobilized Assange and, to a greater extent, WikiLeaks' activities. In previous analyses, I have demonstrated that it is beyond doubt that this case is political motivated. There isn't a genuine legal case behind the charade of the Swedish Prosecutor Authority and the plaintiff's prejudiced lawyers. This is not the first time that this sort of behaviour has been seen in Sweden.

What would have happened if Assange had been detained at the airport? The prosecutor would have had to interrogate Assange within a few hours. Assange would have requested the presence of a lawyer or that the interview was videotaped. Afterwards he would have been released, because in terms of the evidence available to the prosecutor, there would have been nothing new that had not already come up in the preliminary investigation, conducted by prosecutor Finne (who had previously dismissed the case on this evidence). He would have never been held incommunicado, as he will certainly be if he comes to Sweden under the extradition terms that resulted from the EAW.

Only the EAW could have produced the political benefits created by this scenario, which enables a prolongation of Assange's prisoner status. My “stalling-the-process hypothesis” [16] was correct from the start.

[1] M Ferrada de Noli. "Government-Sponsored Presentation Of Swedish Supreme Court Judge In Australia Increased Doubts On Sweden’s Legal System". In: "Human Rights Issues in the Swedish case VS. Assange". Libertarian Books – Sweden, 2014. Page 201.
[2] SvT . “Kravet: Förhör Assange nu”. SvT Nyheter, 2/2 2014.
[3] SvT. Program Agenda, 2/2 2014.
[4] Elisabeth Massi Fritz. ”Varför ska undantag göras för Assange?” Svt, Brännpunkt, 5/2 2014.
[5] TT. “Reinfeldt beklagade negative bild av rättsväsendet”. DN, 11 Feb 2011. Artikeln vid samma namn i Aftonbladet, 11 Feb 2011.
[6] Sveriges Radio, Studio Ett, 25/1 2012
[7] City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Sitting at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court). “The judicial authority in Sweden –v- Julian Paul Assange. Findings of facts and reasons”. See “Summary of facts found”, Item 19, page 10.
[8] M Ferrada de Noli.  ”Professor: medierapporteringen om Assange osaklig och likriktad”, Newsmill, 20/2 2011. Material, antal artiklar; (DN n=24, SvD n=31, AB n= 32, Expressen n= 16). Drop-out cases N= 13 (DN n=2, SvD n= 7, AB n=1, Expressen n= 3).
[9] “Han lämnade landet samma dag som han för andra gången blev anhållen i sin frånvaro. Han vägrade sedan att återvända.” In: Elisabeth Massi Fritz. ”Varför ska undantag göras för Assange?” SvD, Brännpunkt, 5/2 2014. http://www.svd.se/opinion/brannpunkt/varfor-ska-undantag-goras-for-assange_8958694.svd
[10] Elisabeth Massi Fritz. “Make no exception for Assange”. SvD, Brännpunk, 7/2 2014.http://www.svd.se/opinion/brannpunkt/make-no-exception-for-assange_8968448.svd
[11] The meetings have been scheduled long before.  Partly it was the working-meetings with Kristinn Hrafnsson and the L’Espresso journalist Stefania Maurizi on the 27-28 September (this was about the ”Afghanistan materials” that the Italian paper was going to publish). And partly it was the meetings with Holger Stark and Marcel Rosenbach from Der Spiegel, the day after.
[12] Polishögskolan. “Intervju- och förhörsmetodik”. Kursplan http://www.polis.umu.se/digitalAssets/9/9137_reviderad-kursplanintervju-o-frhr.pdf
[13] [Information avs. tidpunkten för arresteringsorder] retrieved from a post signed by Duqu at FB-forum. I have asked for the original source, which will be posted here.
[14] See Affidavit of Julian Paul Assange, 1. Summary of Claims, Item 4.
[15] UK:s Supreme Court document “Agreed Statement of Facts And Issues. Between: Julian Paul Assange (Applicant) V. Swedish Prosecution Authority (Respondent)”, hearings 1-2 Feb 2012, Item 13, sidan 4.:
On 14th September 2010, the Appellant’s counsel enquired in writing as to whether the Appellant was permitted to leave Sweden. On 15th September 2010, the prosecutor informed the Appellant’s counsel that he was free to leave Sweden.
The "Julian Paul Affidavit" refers also in No 4, “Extended stay in Sweden”, Item 113, “My lawyer in Sweden Bjorn Hurtig obtained an agreement from the prosecutor Marianne Ny that I was free to leave Sweden. I left Sweden on 27 September 2010.”
[16] M Ferrada de Noli. “Operation Stalling. Explaining Sweden’s Reluctance To Conduct Assange’s Interrogation In London”. In: “Human Rights Issues in the Swedish case VS. Assange“. Libertarian Books – Sweden, 2014. Page 72.

Published in Professorsblogg.com 7 Feb 2014

3years-assange3Featured image. Courtesy by Somerset Bean

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