The siege by Scotland Yard agents around the red brick building in Knightsbridge has been gone for two years now. And with Sweden dropping the rape investigation last May, even the European arrest warrant hanging over Julian Assange's head like the sword of Damocles has gone. Many expected the founder of WikiLeaks to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been confined for over five years, after spending one and a half years under house arrest. But Assange hasn't dared leave the Embassy due to concern he would be arrested, extradited to the US and charged for publishing WikiLeaks' secret documents.
Julian Assange's situation is unique. Like him and his work or not, he is the only western publisher confined to a tiny embassy, without access to even the one hour a day outdoors maximum security prisoners usually receive. He is being arbitrarily detained, according to a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision which has completely faded into oblivion. December 7th will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange.
That is why next Monday, La Repubblica will appear before a London Tribunal to defend the press' right to access the documents regarding his case, after spending the last two years attempting Freedom of Information requests (FOI) without success.
It is entirely possible, however, that we will never be able to access many of these documents, as last week London authorities informed us that "all the data associated with Paul Close's account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered". A questionable choice indeed: Close is the lawyer who supported the Swedish prosecutors in the Swedish investigation on Julian Assange from the beginning. What was the rationale for deleting historical records pertaining to a controversial and still ongoing case?
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Trying to get access to the full set of documents on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has been a true odyssey. Over the last two years, we have filed FOI requests at the Metropolitan Police on three journalists who played prominent roles in WikiLeaks including Sarah Harrison, who helped Edward Snowden leave Hong Kong to seek asylum and is currently heading the Courage Foundation, Joseph Farrell, an editor at WikiLeaks and its ambassador, currently working for "Tenure" and Kristinn Hrafnsson, the former WikiLeaks' spokesperson. All of our requests have been rejected.
As for Julian Assange, in the course of the last two years Sweden has released only 444 pages of documents to us. The UK? None. It was only after we opted for litigation that the UK authorities finally released a small set of documents to us, which as we write amounts to 336 pages, most of them completely irrelevant or so heavily redacted that they are of very little if any interest.
Two agencies have played a key role in the case of Julian Assange: the Swedish Prosecution Service (SPA) in Stockholm, which conducted the investigation on allegations of rape, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London, which provided Spa with support on the Assange case given that Assange has been in London since 2010 despite being under investigation in Sweden. It is CPS we will be challenging before the Tribunal next Monday, represented by Estelle Dehon, a specialist in information law at Cornerstone Barristers, and Jennifer Robinson, a human rights and international law specialist at Doughty Street Chambers.
"The CPS refused to provide information about the attempts to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden or about contacts with other governments (such as the United States or Ecuador), even though there is very significant public interest in the information", Dehon tells Repubblica, "The CPS argues there would be "prejudice to international relations" if the information were released, but has not provided any evidence of such prejudice. The case will challenge the CPS's refusal and the Tribunal will consider whether to order information to be released".
The few hundred files released by Sweden and the UK indicate that the CPS perceived the Assange case as not an ordinary one from the beginning. "Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request", writes CPS's lawyer, Paul Close, to the Swedish prosecutors early in January 2011, and only 11 months later, new comments on this from CPS: "I do not believe anything like this has ever happened, either in terms of speed or in the informal nature of the procedures. I suppose this case never ceases to amaze". Unfortunately, the few documents obtained so far do not allow us to understand why the CPS regarded the Assange case as not an ordinary one.
The emails provided by SPA leave no doubt that the CPS advised the Swedish prosecutors against the only investigative strategy that could have led to a quick closure of the preliminary investigation: questioning Assange in London shortly after his arrest rather than trying for years to extradite him to Sweden at all costs, a solution Julian Assange fought tooth and nail, convinced that extradition to Sweden would have paved the way to extradition to the US. It was this decision to not question Assange in London that contributed to the long judicial paralysis ultimately resulting in the determination by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that Sweden and the US are detaining Assange arbitrarily. How was the decision to not question Assange in London actually made? To what extent was it influenced by the CPS?
Emails leave no room for doubt that CPS advised Ny against questioning Assange in London from the very start: "My earlier advice remains, that in my view it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the UK", CPS lawyer Paul Close wrote to Ny the 25th of January, adding that "Any attempt to interview him under strict Swedish law would invariably be fraught with problems". He therefore concludes: "I suggest you interview him only on his surrender to Sweden and in accordance with the Swedish law. As we have discussed your prosecution is well based on the existing evidence and is sufficient to proceed to trial, which is the prosecution's intention". According to Jennifer Robinson, "The FOI material released in Sweden to Ms Maurizi raised serious questions about the role CPS may have played in placing the UK in breach of its international obligations. This case demonstrates how transparency and access to information are essential to ensuring accountability for human rights violations".
Emails released to us so far document how the CPS and SPA have been careful in handling the media. Before the Supreme Court hearing in London, the CPS sent an email to Marianne Ny saying that she and her collaborator would be extremely welcome to attend the hearing, but Ny declined:" I would love to come to London for the hearings in the Supreme Court but I find it hardly possible. I reckon I would subject myself to severe criticism for refusing to go to London to question Assange by both the defence and media if I did". At that point, the CPS offered Ny and her collaborator to attend "in total anonymity", passing them both off "as a couple of Swedish law students".
When this email exchange ended up in the hands of the Swedish TV4 a few months later, the CPS and Marianne Ny immediately maintained that it was just a joke, and Ny finally wrote: "We would have been able to handle this matter in a better way if we have been informed when the decision to give TV4 the correspondence. Even better if it had been deleted immediately after reading".
Was Ny joking about such deletion, or did she really consider the possibility of destroying the correspondence in the Assange case? Why, for example, as she publicly admitted, did she delete an email she purportedly received last March from the FBI? And why did the CPS delete "all the data associated with Paul Close's account?"