MPs urge UK to cooperate with Sweden in Assange case

In this Dec. 1, 2011, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he speaks during a news conference in central London. (FILE/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2019

MPs urge UK to cooperate with Sweden in Assange case

  • Assange was arrested at Ecuador’s London embassy on allegations of skipping bail
  • He had sought refuge in the embassy in 2012 while on bail awaiting extradition to Sweden for allegations of sexual assault and rape

LONDON: More than 70 British lawmakers have urged their government to prioritize any extradition bid Sweden might make for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is also wanted in the United States.
Assange was arrested on Thursday at Ecuador’s London embassy on allegations of skipping bail, and on a US extradition warrant related to a huge leak of official documents.
He had sought refuge in the embassy in 2012 while on bail awaiting extradition to Sweden for allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he always denied.
In the letter, the MPs and peers urge British Home Secretary Sajid Javid to “give every assistance to Sweden should they want to revive and pursue the investigation.”
British law states that if Sweden does make an extradition request, it would be up to Javid to decide which should take precedence.
“We must send a strong message of the priority the UK has in tackling sexual violence and the seriousness with which such allegations are viewed,” the letter says.
The sexual assault claim expired in 2015 and Swedish prosecutors dropped a preliminary investigation into the rape allegation in 2017, arguing that since Assange could not be reached, they could not proceed.
Following his arrest, however, the alleged rape victim asked that her case now be reopened — but the limitation period on this claim expires in August 2020.
“We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done,” the letter says.
The MPs and peers add that it is “of grave concern to us” that the Swedish authorities did not appear to have prior warning of Assange’s arrest, unlike the US authorities.
The letter was also copied to Diane Abbott, the home affairs spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour party.

Abbott said: “Assange skipping bail in UK, or any rape charge that may be brought by Swedish authorities shouldn’t be ignored.
“But the only extradition request is from USA, because he’s a whistle-blower on atrocities caused by US military ops. This extradition would be wrong so we oppose it.”
Assange is currently being held at the high-security Belmarsh jail in southeast London.
The 47-year-old Australian claims the Swedish cases against him were politically motivated, linked to the leak in 2010 of a huge number of US military and diplomatic documents.
He sought refuge with Ecuador, claiming that his extradition to Sweden was a pretext for his transfer to the United States.
But Ecuador withdrew his asylum status and allowed British police into the embassy on Thursday to arrest the white-bearded Assange.
He appeared in court a few hours later and was found guilty of breaching his bail terms back in 2012. He could be jailed for up to a year when he is sentenced at a later date.
The separate extradition case on US charges of computer hacking is set for May 2, although the United States has until June 12 to submit full extradition papers.
Assange’s London lawyer Jennifer Robinson said: “He’s obviously going to fight extradition and fight it hard.”


Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

Updated 30 September 2020

Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

  • US magazine hails Bilkis, 82, as ‘symbol of resistance’ over citizenship protests

NEW DELHI: As the black SUV pulled up outside her village, 82-year-old Bilkis could see a group of people waiting with garlands and big smiles on their faces.

They approached her one by one, and as she slowly stepped out of the car, some greeted her with a “namaste” or “salaam,” while others queued to take a selfie.

It has been a week since Bilkis was named by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people for 2020 list, but the “dadi” (grandmother) of Kurana village, nearly 70 km west of New Delhi, says she is still getting used to all the attention.

“This is new to me. I have never experienced anything like this in my life,” she said.

“I was born in this village and married here, too, but never greeted this way by the villagers. It seems I have done something that has touched them,“ Bilkis, who uses one name, told Arab News.

A mother of six and grandmother of 17, Bilkis has never been to school, and can neither read nor write.

But she gained prominence earlier this year when she joined several other young and older women in a three-month demonstration in New Delhi’s Muslim-dominated Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), while braving harsh winter temperatures in the capital.

“I sat on the street from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for 101 days without a break,” Bilkis said.

On Sept. 22, Time magazine honored her for being “the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities are being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime.

More accolades are in order.

On Tuesday, a women’s group said the magazine’s “recognition of Bilkis comes at a dark time when anyone who stands for justice, equality and democratic rights are being put behind bars.”

According to Annie Raja, general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, Bilkis represents the “resolve of the women to safeguard democracy and the secularism of the constitution.” 

The CAA grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. 

It is part of a proposed National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an initiative to identify “genuine citizens” of India. 

However, many Muslims fear the exercise will leave them “stateless” and drive them out of the country.

Opposing the move, Indians from all walks of life, faiths and communities began protesting last December, culminating in violent clashes with police at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia University in March.

“When I saw students on TV being beaten by police for protesting against the CAA, I decided to join the protest in Shaheen Bagh,” Bilkis said.

For three months, protesters occupied one of the capital’s busiest areas, with the sit-in ending on March 25 after the government announced a nationwide lockdown to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Bilkis said she didn’t expect the protests would last that long, but would “do it all over again” if necessary. 

“I was born here and I will die here,” Bilkis said, referring to Kurana village, where she has lived for more than 70 years.

“I am not fighting for myself, I have lived my life, but I am fighting for the new generation who have their whole life in front of them. We are the citizens of the country. Our forefathers were born here. Where will we go if we leave?”

She blamed the government for encouraging religious violence in New Delhi in February when more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives.

“This government is creating a wall of hatred and has arrested innocent people. They should be released. This is an atrocity against the students,” she said.

“Hindus and Muslims have existed together in harmony for ages; why does the government want to create religious disharmony?” she said.

A young villager, Zaid Khan, who has been listening to Bilkis, nods his head before sharing his opinion.

“Dadi (grandma) is fighting for us, and we have to stand by her. I am happy the issue is being highlighted again. The law has only one aim — to target Muslims,” Khan said.

Manzoor Ahmad, Bilkis’ son, said that while the entire family is proud of her achievements, their “real win” would be for the CAA to be withdrawn.

Bilkis joins other Indian women, including Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, and celebrated lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, to be featured by Time magazine in recent years.