Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2016
Men who are accused of rape are often scared, furious or both. Going through a police investigation is an unpleasant experience, but some allegations are so serious that they need to be tested by the criminal justice system. The same rules apply to everybody, whether they are an ordinary citizen or a global celebrity – and that’s the inconvenient fact that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is frantically trying to obscure.
Assange’s latest wheeze – asking a UN panel to declare that he’s been ‘arbitrarily detained’ in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 – would be hilarious if there weren’t so many gullible people who will see it as a vindication of their hero’s desperate attempts to escape political persecution. The BBC is reporting that the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will rule in favour of Assange when it announces its decision tomorrow, a development which – if the reports are true – will make it a laughing stock.
Assange chose to knock on the door of the Ecuadorian embassy of his own free will, begging to be allowed inside because he’d lost his case to avoid extradition to Sweden. It wasn’t just that he’d lost, either; he lost spectacularly at every English court he went to, including the Supreme Court. That’s the highest court in the land, and not known for being a patsy of the ‘dark forces’ supposedly conspiring to destroy the Australian campaigner for truth, transparency and international justice.
If Assange really is a campaigner for all those things, he needs to explain why the basic legal processes that apply to the rest of us should be waived for him. It’s now more than five years since two Swedish women – both of them, as it happens, supporters of WikiLeaks – made serious allegations against him. To be clear (and because it’s sometimes denied by his more irrational supporters), those accusations included a count of rape as well one of unlawful coercion and two of sexual molestation. Assange has now spent so much time hiding from justice (costing the British taxpayer more than £12 million) that the statute of limitations on the lesser charges has run out. His problem, and the most likely reason he has dragged the UN into his deluded crusade, is that the rape investigation is still going on and will remain live until 2020.
It’s worth recalling that Assange was first interviewed by the Swedish police in August 2010. He left the country shortly afterwards and has refused to go back for further questioning. If the accusations are as flimsy as he insists, it’s difficult to see why he didn’t return, confident that he would be able to provide satisfactory answers. Other famous men have had to go through similar processes, including the comedian Bill Cosby who has just been told that prosecutors in the US can proceed with a sexual assault charge dating back to 2004.
Assange has tried every legal avenue and some pretty outlandish ones to avoid the citizen’s basic duty of helping the police with their inquiries. His alleged victims, meanwhile, have been left in legal limbo. They’ve also been subjected to out-and-out character assassination, including baseless allegations that Assange is the victim of a ‘honey trap’.
He and his supporters have repeatedly claimed that there is a conspiracy to lure him back to Sweden and extradite him to the US, where he would face trial for leaking state secrets. They have never explained why it is necessary to do this, given that it would actually be easier for the US to extradite Assange from the UK than Sweden, which prohibits extradition on the basis of a ‘political offence’. (Remember all those angry headlines about the UK’s one-sided extradition treaty with the US?) But Assange is such a charismatic individual, in some quarters at least, that his fans would rather believe almost anything than the sordid truth.
Assange is a fugitive from justice, a man with such an inflated ego that he believes himself beyond the law. It is almost four years since the Supreme Court upheld a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish authorities, and the British police have a duty to arrest him if he steps outside the embassy. Every move he makes, no matter how bizarre, is calculated to do one thing, which is to create a smokescreen over these awkward facts.
Claims of a ‘honey trap’, the flight to the Ecuadorian embassy, this latest appeal to a UN body: they’re all part of the same process. Assange understands the value of publicity, using the language of human rights and persecution to bolster his own personal myth. But behind each step is an increasingly seedy individual who is seeking immunity from the criminal justice systems of two democratic countries.