Friday, January 27, 2012

Swedish government using media to interfere in the legal process against Julian Assange

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt at the National Swedish Radio studios 25 January 2012. Foto: Maria Aros / Sveriges Radio

The international organization Reporters Without Borders published in these days the Press Freedom Index 2011-2012. Sweden's position down dropped severely from previous years, from the top position to a currently 12th place. This article explores possible reasons for this deterioration. The analysis focuses on the Swedish government allegedly interference through the media in the judicial process against Assange and issues of a prospective US extradition, and the most recent comments in the National Swedish Radio (25 of January 2012) by Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
by Marcello Ferrada-Noli

The specific rationale for the ranking given to Sweden by the organization Reporters Without Borders is not stated in the Index-table itself [ Press Freedom Index ] [1]. Nevertheless, for those researching into the psycho-social “duck pond” phenomenon in the spheres of Swedish journalism and Press freedom in the past year, some aggravating issues emerge distinctly:

a) the Swedish mainstrea media’s treatment of the Assange case [2], among other characterized by uncritical pro-authority repetition of official versions; b) the interference of the Swedish government – through national media - with regard to the judicial case against the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange; and, c) to a lesser extent in comparison with the serious issues above, a selective censorship or filtering exercised towards analyses published in the blogosphere (see  Opinions on Assange case and censorship in Swedish media, Second-Opinion 24/2 2011) [3].

One notable ensuing paradox is that Wikileaks – whose very founder and frontrunner journalist/publisher is targeted by Sweden - has been recognized as one among main factor in the liberationist struggles [4], moving societies towards increasing press freedom during 2011. As Reporters Without Borders noticed in their report, the situation of some Arabic countries, such as Tunisia, has improved markedly in the Press Freedom Index.

While the Swedish “duck pond” phenomena in the context of media climate is  analysed elsewhere [5], in this article I will focus in the interfering of the Swedish government in the so-called independent legal procedures around the case against Julian Assange.

The Swedish Prime Minister apparently taking publicly the side of the accusers, before the trial even starts

In February 2011, referring to the Swedish case against Assange, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt  declared publicly: [6]

“It is regrettably. We have an independent legal system, which in this case it has furthermore acted according Swedish legislation. One has – under public prosecution – taken to court Julian Assange on accusations of rape”

[NOTE: the original Swedish expression used by PM Reindfeldt was “instämt”, whose synonyms are “åtalat” (charged), or “kallat inför rätta” (summoned into court). This is the full quote, in Swedish: ”– Det är beklagligt. Vi har ett självständigt rättsväsende som i det här fallet dessutom agerat på svensk lagstiftning. Man har till allmänt åtal instämt Julian Assange för anklagelser om våldtäkt”.]

And Sweden’s PM Reinfeldt added in the context of the accusations against Assange, what the international media characterized as he was taking side on behalf of the two women-accusers:

“I can only regret that women’s rights and status weighs that light regarding these types of issues, in comparison with other type of theories put forward.”

[”– Jag kan bara beklaga att kvinnors rätt och ställning väger så lätt när det gäller den här typen av frågor jämfört med andra typer av teorier som förs fram”].

The Prime Minister’s declarations above were widely distributed by the Swedish News Agency TT. The quotes above correspond to the article “ Reinfeldt regretted negative picture of the (Swedish) legal system” [“Reinfeldt beklagade negative bild av rattsvasendet”], [7] published by the leading Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter the 11 of February 2011.

In a further jeopardy of former traditions of Press Freedom in Sweden, some evening newspapers  took away the original formulations [8] uttered by PM Reindfeldt to the News Agency TT. Dean paper Dagens Nyheter however did not, and PM Reinfeldt’s original expressions are still found on-line in; as well in Aftonbladet archives, according to [9]

New interferences

Those believing in February 2011 that the expressions of the Head of the Swedish government were solely a spur of the moment reflection, misquoting, or accidental misunderstanding, were much surprised to hear the exact statement again, a year later, now the 25 of January 2012.

In this occasion, the prestigious program Studio Ett of the public National Radio Broadcasting network (SR) aired an interview with Prime Minister Reinfeldt including a selection of questions converging from listeners to a flow gate (“slussen”) set up by SR.

Among the subjects selected it was the extradition-issue of Julian Assange to the US in the context – as manifested in the program - of the international criticism raised against the Swedish judicial system, and also the allegedly “too friendly, pro-US” extradition agreements. The Swedish Radio heads the subject as “ Comments about the purportedly pro USA extra-generous extradition agreements ”. [10]

The listener “slussed” by the program on this issue is in fact herself a journalist - Carina Rydberg – a known supporter of the two Assange accusers and also notable for a persistent ad hominem anti-Assange campaign as demonstrated in a variety of her publications, for instance “ Julian Assange’s defender from Hell”, in which she portrayed Assange’s defenders not only as enemies of feminism but of all “mankind” (Newsmill, 23/11 2010). [11]

For the sake of clarity, I would like to stress that for the average Swede, “anklagelser”, in the context of criminal offences – would mean also “charges”; For instance, the Swedish version of Microsoft Word Thesaurus synonyms “anklagelser” also with “åtal” (prosecution in court) or “stämningar” (lawsuits). In other contexts would mean “accusations”. On the other hand – also in the context of criminal offences or juridical issues – “suspected of” is translated as “minstänkt av”.

Ergo, if a Swedish journalist, or a Swedish politician, or a Swedish member of the judiciary choses to use “den anklagade Julian Assange” instead of “Assange mistänkt av” when addressing the public, even if not deliberately, is misleading it. The facts: Julian Assange has NOT been charged in Sweden or any other country for any crime whatsoever.

Rydberg opens by warning on the current international media panorama about an allegedly direct deportation of Assange to US in case he would be sent to Sweden from the UK “on the ground of anklagelser of sex crimes”. Later, in her introductorily statement for her question, she also apperas lead-questioning (her remarks appeared in remarkably correspondence with what PM Reindfeldt said thereafter) on that the international concern about "Assange would be given in Sweden the same procedure as in the Egyptians case” (the extraordinary renditions of political detainees in Swedish territory to CIA, by Swedish officials), such concern would be countered by "the independence of the Swedish judiciary from the government".

Carina Rydberg:
- “What comments has Prime Minister about these reports”

Prime Minister Reinfeldt:
- “Hi Carina. Those that have followed the case know that it is for me highly sensitive to comment around this issue. It is about a single case, and besides it has been used in the international media – as you also pointed out - to give a view that the Swedish legal/judicial system is kind of mixed up (sammanblandad) with the political decision-makers. And that way is not – as I earlier affirmed. Instead, extradition issues are based in a legal system that “talk with each other” according to special rules, and in that case it would also applies in this case (Assange) [“och det skulle i så fall vara tillämpbart också i det här fallet”].

PM Reinfeldt’s statement about a prospective extradition of Julian Assange to USA is far from conclusive. The named legal praxis “would” eventually be applicable to Assange, says the Prime Minister. Reinfeldt does not say, “shall” or “should” apply.

The reader may observe in the above introductorily declaration of PM Reinfeldt that, for the reasons he himself has given, he is carefully pondering each word about these issues. That makes Prime Minister Reinfeldt himself – and not the author of this comment –the one marking such own words he has sensitively chosen.

Beyond the accuracy issue about the words choosen by PM Reinfeldt, he rather fails the public for what he choses not to say. For it is highly relevant in this context to inform the public, and particularly the international forum and journalists, that in Sweden the government has indeed several instances by which to intervene in such extraditions processes, including eventually stop it.

Exactly as it was in the UK in the case of dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose extradition for trial elsewhere - in spite of the “judicial procedures” - was at the end stopped with the direct intervention of the government.

I know the case well, as I have myself presented in 1998 an extradition petition upon Scandinavian courts for Pinochet to be taken into justice because of the assassination of my dear friends and comrade-in-arms during the Chilean resistance. [12] Further details on the legal possibilities by the Swedish government of intervening in the extradition process can be seen in the site Justice For Assange . [13]

And a most important fact, as I have already put forward in my rebuttal [14] to the  Svenska Dagbladet’s piece on Assange-extradition facts: [15]

“Regarding the open extradition requests from the USA since 2000, Sweden has granted such extradition in the TOTAL OF CASES in which the prisoner was in Swedish territory. This is based in statistics according to Sweden's Justice Ministry”.

I also developed the following argument in my analysis “ Sweden will grant extradition of Assange to US if not stopped by international political pressure ” [16]

Would the Swedish authorities - because of a Swedish law that ultimately inhibits any deportation or extradition to a country that exercises death penalty (such as in USA)- stop Assange's extradition?

Sweden had in fact deported individuals (even refugees applying for asylum in Sweden) to countries with full active death penalty. We have also the case of the  extraordinary renditions to USA [17] of individuals under arrest in Sweden (see below). Let us not forget that Sweden has in fact been sanctioned by International Human Rights organizations due to this praxis. Just one illustration on those events: The United Nations Committee Against Torture ruled 19 of May 2005 that Sweden had violated the International Ban of Torture. In concrete, for Sweden's direct collaboration in the CIA rendition flights, rendering to the Americans asylum seekers while those were under the "custody" of Sweden.

The extraordinary rendition issue in the context of the case against Assange

Journalist Carina Rydberg – in her role of selected listener in the Reinfeldt talk-with the-public program of the Swedish National Radio – goes ahead in the program trying tackle the international critic about Sweden’s rendition of the Egyptian political refugees to US Intelligence services. She expresses that she finds choking [“upprörande”] that Sweden is portrayed as Scandinavian North Korea.

The Prime Minister:
- “I think that this case around the Egyptians is in any case rather special in its character, and I have also discussed this in many occasions, the role of Sweden around [omkring] this and also it has been critic on this.” [18]

Ensuing, Reinfeldt makes a point by telling “this case (Assange)” is different and the legal procedures that exist should apply, and insisted that the government should not intervene.

Yes, this case is different of the “Egyptians” as long Assange extradition is not asked by the US under the accusation of being a “terrorist”. For in this case the Swedish government has a totally different praxis and “Intelligence” agreements with USA. This is exactly what it was disclosed by the WikiLeaks cables (see  This is Why ). [19]

The problem is that Julian Assange has indeed been accused - by prominent US politicians – of being precisely that, a “terrorist”. He has been called “Cyber terrorist”, and by no less than the Pentagon, according to  this report . [20] And Vice PresidentBiden, had likened Julian Assange to a  “high-tech terrorist” [21] according to the Guardian.

The program leader, journalist Andres Holmberg, asked finally Sweden’s Prime Minister:

- “Is it a problem for you Fredrik Reinfeldt, or for Sweden, that this type of descriptions emerges about Sweden, in the international press: A judicial banana republic?”

The Prime Minister of Sweden:
- “It is very often a method one uses, to try discrediting a country or a judicial system when one stands prosecuted (anklagad, again!) of a crime in other country.”

- “We have naturally to stand up for we have a functioning legal state and also we take very seriously prosecutions that have to do with rape because there are also ingredients aiming to diminish how we have developed, and stand for, a good legislation in this case.” [22]

“We” is the all-Swedish public PM Reinfeldt is addressing to. “We” includes all the listeners, the judges, the prosecutors, the policemen, the journalists, the feminists, the non-feminists, the children, the trade unionists, the Parliament, etc., etc.

If the above is not a direct interfering from the part of the government in the legal process in preparation or in course in the country of its domain, then all dictionaries of the democratic world have to revise the meaning of political manipulation, power, and authority.

And let Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu – whose classical formulation of the separation of the “state powers” executive, legislative, and judicial system (De l'esprit des lois, 1748) [23] was later fundamental for democratic rule - be the new “defender from hell”.

For one thing is to have sympathy for that “We” should make this a national issue according to the Prime Minister because what is at stake internationally is a “good Swedish legislation”. And “We” and our “development” are obviously and increasingly questioned, which is not prosperous either for prestige or business. And all that I can understand.

But what about justice?

Finally, in such "legal" cases, regarding "enskilda fall", the one and only decent statement every decent people would expect from their highest government authority is:

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat; Being this one of the holiest principles in democratic justice, and meaning that every individual shall be considered innocent until proven otherwise. (In strict sense it means that the onus probandis is solely responsibility of the accuser).

Media links 1, 2, 3, 4










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22. Studio Ett: "Är det problem för dig Fredrik Reinfeldt, eller för Sverige, att det förekommer denna typ av beskrivningar av Sverige som en juridisk banan republik i internationell press"

- (Fredrik Reinfeldt: "Det är ju väldigt ofta en metod man använder, att försöka misstänkliggöra ett land eller ett rättsystem när man står anklagad för ett brott I ett annat land. Det finn likheter vid andra tillfällen då denna teknik har använts. Vi måste naturligtvis stå upp för att vi har en fungerande rättsstat och också vi tar mycket allvarligt på anklagelser som handlar om våldtäck för det finns också inslag att försöka förminska hur vi har utvecklats och står för en bra lagstiftning I det här fallet."

23. de Secondat, Charles, Baron de Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Crowder, Wark, and Payne, 1777.

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