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Sweden Drops Rape Charges Against WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

May 19, 2017
Originally published on May 19, 2017 10:36 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Swedish prosecutors have dropped their rape investigation into Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who's been living in Ecuador's London embassy for the last five years. This development does not completely eliminate the legal threat Assange faces.

Joining us now from Stockholm is journalist Maddy Savage. Welcome to the program.

MADDY SAVAGE, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: What have we heard from Swedish authorities about the rationale behind their decision to end this investigation?

SAVAGE: Basically what Swedish prosecutors have said today - because of legal technicalities, they don't wish to continue the investigation. This is because Julian Assange still won't come to Sweden. And they don't see the possibility of getting any further assistance in terms of questioning him from the Ecuadorian authorities in London. All they've managed to do so far is ask some questions via translators at the end of last year. They weren't allowed to ask any follow-up questions. So with all of this in mind, they've said it's not right to continue to uphold the European arrest warrant against him.

SHAPIRO: And what was the response today from Julian Assange?

SAVAGE: Well, he's declared this a victory. I mean he's denied the sexual assault and the rape allegations. And he's appeared at the embassy in London, saying that he's angry that he's essentially been detained for seven years without charge while his name's been slandered, while his children have been growing up but obviously very happy with the fact that the investigation is not continuing in Sweden.

Although, we should point out that if he were ever to set foot on Swedish soil, he would still be wanted for questioning by authorities. They are by no means saying today that they think he's innocent or guilty. They wish they could continue questioning him, but because of these legal technicalities, they simply can't.

SHAPIRO: You've also been reporting today on the reaction from some of the women who accused Assange of rape. What are they saying?

SAVAGE: Yeah, I've been in text contact with one of the women accusing Julian Assange of rape. She still believes Julian Assange is guilty and that now, because this investigation has been dropped, he's lost the possibility to be freed from the accusation to stand trial. And she said that these accusations will stick to him forever. Earlier, her lawyer said that the client was shocked about the decision to end the case and called it a scandal that a suspected rapist could escape justice.

And I think this is where questions are going to come in the next few days and weeks because rape and sex-assault offenses are taken really seriously in Sweden. There's a much wider definition of these crimes in Sweden than in many other countries. So people will be wanting to look into this case because it could potentially be the case that others accused of these kind of crimes might also try and flee trial or flee questioning by staying outside of Sweden.

SHAPIRO: And even beyond Sweden, these are not the only legal charges hanging over Assange's head.

SAVAGE: Not at all. I mean these are just some of the things that he's been wanted for - obviously crucially leaking hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic U.S. documents. And it's certainly the case that American authorities still want to question him over that. In terms of Ecuador's role in this - because Julian Assange essentially wants to escape that questioning, get political asylum in Ecuador - and the Ecuadorian authorities have called on the U.K. to grant Julian Assange safe passage and welcome the decision to drop the charges.

But we understand U.K. police have said that they would want to question Julian Assange the moment he left the embassy because he breached his bail conditions. He didn't show up for the rest of his legal proceedings and holed himself up in the embassy. So at the very least, he could be arrested for that. Whether or not he's extradited from the U.K. to the U.S., time will tell.

SHAPIRO: That's journalist Maddy Savage. Thanks for joining us.

SAVAGE: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And Maddy Savage spoke to us from Stockholm via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.