By Howie Hawkins
Sweden decided this week to drop the investigation into sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange for insufficient evidence. It was the third time Sweden has ended its investigation. That Sweden is ending the investigation now when they are not needed to keep Assange detained in the UK is more indication that the Assange case has been a political show trial all along.
The first time Sweden dropped the charges was in 2013, but the investigation was quickly reinstated under pressure for the US and UK because it was the basis for the UK’s attempt to detain Assange, who had taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The second time was in 2017. Last May, however, Sweden reopened the investigation again when Assange was detained by the UK after he had lost his asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in April. The new Swedish investigation was instigated by the police, not the women who originally made the allegations. No new evidence was put forth. With US now seeking to extradite Assange for charges under the Espionage Act, Sweden is no longer needed to keep Assange in custody in the UK.
Prosecutors first decided not to pursue charges after Assange was interviewed by authorities while he was in Sweden. Assange then returned to the UK. The investigation was re-started when a politicized prosecutor took over the case. It is important to know, Assange has never been charged by Swedish prosecutors. He has only been investigated.
Assange is still imprisoned completing his sentence for violating bail conditions imposed seven years ago by taking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The bail was for extradition hearings for Sweden’s extradition request. He was scheduled to be released in September, but is now being held for extradition to the US.
Last May, the UN working group on arbitrary detention (WGAD) protested the “disproportionate sentence” imposed on Assange for violating the terms of his bail and called for Assange to be freed. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, then investigated Assange’s detention in the UK and reported that he was suffering psychological torture in prison. He stated that Assange should not be extradited to the United States because he would face a “politicized show trial.” Assange’s lawyers and parents report that his health has continued to deteriorate in prison in recent months.
Assange is being charged in the US for 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010 that he received from Army PFC Chelsea Manning. Presented by Wikileaks as the “Iraq War Logs,” the most infamous was the “Collateral Murder” video showing a US helicopter gunship killing Iraqi civilians and journalists and coming back to fire on civilians attempting to bring the wounded to medical care. If Assange is found guilty for publishing these leaked documents, every news organization in the US is threatened because they all depend on leaks to get the news to us about what the government is doing.
The Espionage Act should be repealed. It is an especially repressive law enacted against the movement opposed to US participation in World War I. It does not allow for a public interest defense by those who blow the whistle on government wrongdoing. It was little used until the Obama and Trump administrations, which have deployed it, especially against whistleblowers. The Assange case is the first time the Espionage Act is being used against a publisher, editor, or journalist.
Chelsea Manning has been imprisoned most of this year for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Julian Assange. She is being held in jail for contempt of court and fined $1,000 a day. Manning was also convicted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years in prison. She served 7 years before President Obama commuted her sentence and she was released.
Jeremy Hammond in another casualty of the Assange political show trial. He was also held in contempt of court last month for refusing to testify on the Assange case to the same grand jury as Manning. Hammond is sentenced to 10 years in 2013 for leaking files he hacked from Statfor, a private intelligence firm, at a time he was communicating with Wikileaks. He was scheduled to be released in December but may be held longer due to the contempt of court charge.
The prosecution of Assange, Manning, and Hammond is a threat to the First Amendment freedom of the press rights of every news organization and the right of all of us to know what our government is doing. It is intended to intimidate all Americans who oppose US imperialism and the repressive and authoritarian state practices, including excessive state secrecy, mass surveillance, and police infiltration of dissident citizen movements. The case has global ramifications. Assange is not a US citizen, nor is Wikileaks a US organization. The press freedom of every news organization and journalist in the world at risk if the US government is able to convict Assange, who under the Espionage Act could be sentenced to death.
These three political prisoners must be freed. The Espionage Act charges against Assange must be dropped. He should be immediately released from prison in the UK. The contempt of court charges against Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond must also be dropped. The fines against Manning should be forgiven. This whole political show trial must be stopped now.
For previous comments by Howie Hawkins on the prosecution of Julian Assange see: