A Swedish prosecutor announced Tuesday that her office is ending a years-long investigation into a 2010 rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently being held in a British prison as he battles the U.S. government's effort to extradite him.
"Now that the U.S. does seek Mr. Assange's extradition to stand trial on unprecedented charges for journalistic work, it continues to be a matter of extreme regret that this reality was never acknowledged and that in turn a process in Sweden, with which Mr. Assange has always expressed his willingness to engage and indeed did so, became so exceptionally politicized itself."
—WikiLeaks Defense Fund
In a statement, Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson explained the decision to end the investigation.
"I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events," Persson said. "Her statements have been coherent, extensive, and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation."
Persson, who pointed to the long period of time that has elapsed since the allegation as the reason for weakened evidence, told Agence France-Presse that she "determined that it cannot be proven that a crime has been committed. But it would be totally wrong of me to say that it is the plaintiff's fault."
The Local Sweden reported that "in September, prosecutors said they had interviewed seven witnesses over the summer in a bid to move the inquiry forward. The statute of limitations in the case was to expire in August 2020."
The plaintiff's lawyer, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, told AFP in response to Persson's announcement that her client will consider whether to appeal the decision to discontinue to case.
"I, and all of the prosecutors who have worked on this case, have always considered the plaintiff credible and reliable. As is the case today. The plaintiff stands by her strong account," said Massi Fritz. "After today's decision my client needs time to process everything that has happened over these nine years in order to be able to move on with her life."
Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange in 2010, the same year that WikiLeaks began publishing hundreds of thousands of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. In 2012, the Australian publisher and activist—who has denied the rape allegation—was granted political asylum by Ecuador and took up residence in the country's embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden.
The WikiLeaks Defense Fund said in a statement Tuesday that from the start of the Swedish investigation, "Assange's expressed concern has been that waiting in the wings was a United States request that would be unstoppable from Sweden and result in his spending the rest of his life in a U.S. prison."
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"Now that the U.S. does seek Mr. Assange's extradition to stand trial on unprecedented charges for journalistic work," the Wikileaks statement added, "it continues to be a matter of extreme regret that this reality was never acknowledged and that in turn a process in Sweden, with which Mr. Assange has always expressed his willingness to engage and indeed did so, became so exceptionally politicized itself."
Welcoming the Swedish prosecutor's decision, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said, "Let us now focus on the threat Mr. Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment."
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny announced in 2017 that the investigation was being "discontinued" because "we didn't see possibilities to advance" it while Assange lived in the embassy. However, in April, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno stripped Assange of his asylum status and invited British police to enter the embassy to forcibly remove and arrest the 48-year-old publisher.
A British judge in May sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail when he took refuge at the embassy. Within two weeks—following a request from the Swedish plaintiff's attorney—Persson reopened the rape investigation and said her office would seek Assange's extradition to Sweden. She explained that because he was no longer living in the embassy, "there exists the possibility to take the case forward."
In late May, the U.S. Justice Department announced a federal grand jury had charged Assange with 17 new counts of violating the Espionage Act. The department said at the time that "the superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense."
Shortly before Assange was scheduled to be released from Belmarsh Prison in Southeast London for serving his bail violation sentence, a British judge ruled in September that he must remain in custody until a U.S. extradition hearing scheduled for February because of his "history of absconding." Assange remains imprisoned in London.
After United Nations special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer and his medical team visited Assange in prison, Melzer released a statement earlier this month that detailed concerns about how Assange is being treated in British custody and his deteriorating health.
"In my view, this case has never been about Mr. Assange's guilt or innocence, but about making him pay the price for exposing serious governmental misconduct, including alleged war crimes and corruption," said Melzer. "Unless the U.K. urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange's continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life."