Sweden to reopen rape case against WikiLeaks’ Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, Wednesday May 1, 2019. (AP)
Updated 13 May 2019

Sweden to reopen rape case against WikiLeaks’ Assange

  • While a Swedish case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains
  • Swedish authorities have had to shelf it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden

STOCKHOLM: Swedish prosecutors said Monday they are reopening a rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and will seek his extradition after he has served his 50-week prison term in Britain for jumping bail.
Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, told a news conference in Stockholm that “there is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape.” She added: “It is my assessment that a new questioning of Assange is required.”
Swedish prosecutors filed preliminary charges — a step short of formal charges — against Assange after he visited the country in 2010, following complaints from two Swedish women who said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.
The Australian secret-spiller left Sweden for Britain in September 2010, and took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition.
After almost seven years holed up inside the building, he was arrested by British police April 11 when Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation’s foreign affairs to poor hygiene.
He is currently in London’s Belmarsh Prison serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in 2012. He is also being held on a US extradition warrant for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer.
While a Swedish case of alleged sexual misconduct was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains. Swedish authorities have had to shelf it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.
The statute of limitations on that case expires in August next year. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegations were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.
Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelsen told The Associated Press on Monday that the decision to reopen the case is “outrageous.”
“He is in prison in the UK, he faces the risk of being extradited to the United States and on top of that, to demand that he’s going to put all his energy into looking into a 10-year-old story from Sweden is just too much,” he said.
Persson said a European arrest warrant will be issued for Assange. A Swedish court would formally issue the extradition request, which Assange could appeal.
She added that while there is a risk the case may cut close to the statute of limitations deadline, “there is also a chance that we will be able to get him extradited before August 17 next year.”
The Swedish move would leave British authorities to decide whether to extradite Assange to Sweden or to the United States, where he is wanted separately for allegedly hacking into a Pentagon computer.
Persson said it was “impossible to predict” how the extradition process would unfold.
There was no immediate reaction from Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange.
The 47-year-old Australian met the women in connection with a lecture in August 2010 in Stockholm. One was involved in organizing an event for Sweden’s center-left Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other was in the audience.
A police officer who heard the women’s accounts decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed the case to a prosecutor.
Neither of the alleged victims has been named publicly.
Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden.
The British extradition process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him. It’s expected it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the United States or possibly to Sweden even if he ultimately loses in court.
WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the decision to reopen the case against Assange “will give Julian a chance to clear his name.”
He said in a statement that Persson had been under “intense political pressure” to reopen the case, and criticized authorities for “mishandling” it from the start.


Pakistan couple arrested for allegedly murdering seven-year-old maid

Updated 26 min 5 sec ago

Pakistan couple arrested for allegedly murdering seven-year-old maid

  • Hassan Siddiqui and his wife employed Zohra Bibi at their home in a middle-class suburb of Rawalpindi
  • Some 8.5 million people — including many children — are employed as domestic workers in Pakistan

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: A Pakistan couple have been arrested for allegedly murdering their seven-year-old maid after she was blamed for letting a pet bird escape, police said, the latest case of violence against child domestic workers in the country.
Hassan Siddiqui and his wife employed Zohra Bibi at their home in a middle-class suburb of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, to care for their son of a similar same age.
“The poor girl was subjected to torture by Siddiqui and his wife who accused her of freeing one of the four pet Macao parrots,” investigating officer Mukhtar Ahmad said on Thursday.
“Siddiqui kicked her in the lower abdomen which proved fatal.”
Some 8.5 million people — including many children — are employed as domestic workers in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Organization.
Theoretically it is illegal to employ anyone under the age of 15, but it remains common practice.
Zohra was taken to hospital by the couple on Sunday, but died the following day. The incident was reported to the police by staff at the hospital.
The young girl’s body was handed over to her parents, who live in Muzaffargarh, near the city of Multan, more than 500 kilometers away from where she was working.
Human rights minister Shireen Mazari confirmed the arrests in a tweet and said the ministry was in touch with police.
“Violence and physical torture against children will not be tolerated and all those involved in such incidents will be dealt with,” city police chief Muhammad Ahsan Younus added.
Domestic workers frequently face exploitation, violence and sexual abuse, with Pakistan’s patriarchal and rigid social-class structure leaving them without a voice.
Children are particularly vulnerable, and Bibi’s case is the latest in a growing number of incidents involving minors.
In December 2018, the rising number of abuse cases led the provincial legislature in Punjab to set regulations for the employment of domestic workers, which theoretically grants them rights such as sick leave and holidays.