Two unnamed Swedish women accused Assange of sexual assault following his visit to the country in 2010. The whistleblower denied the claims and insisted they had been fabricated to extradite him to the US, but was still arrested in London the same year. He was ultimately released on bail, which he then used to claim asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012, where he stayed for seven years.
During his time in the embassy some of the charges expired and were dropped in 2015. The case was dropped by Swedish prosecutors in 2017. However, following Assange's arrest in 2019, Sweden once again raised the issue of the unresolved rape case.
Prosecution Reopens 2010 Rape Case
Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, has announced that the country will reopen the rape case against WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange now that he is out of the Ecuadorian Embassy. Persson said that Sweden will be requesting Assange's extradition after he serves his 50-week-long sentence in a British prison.
The prosecutor noted that the original case was closed in May 2017 not due to a lack of evidence, but due to the inability to investigate the case and prosecute Assange properly because the latter was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Since the whistle-blower has now lost his asylum status, she hopes to interview him about the case.
"There is still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed a rape […] Now that he has left Ecuador's Embassy, the conditions in the case have changed and I am of the opinion that the conditions are in place once again to pursue the case", Persson said.
Persson admitted she is aware that a European Arrest Warrant, which she is going to issue to have Assange extradited to Sweden, may conflict with an extradition request from the US, seeking the whistle-blower on charges of allegedly hacking the Pentagon's computer network. The prosecutor stated that London would decide which country's request will have priority. She further stressed that if the UK decides to extradite Assange to Sweden, the country won't send him to a third country without London's consent.
Despite the case being reopened, it is still subject to the statute of limitations, which is set to expire on 17 August 2020, rendering the attempts to prosecute Assange useless. Persson expressed hope that the UK will make a decision on the extradition request before the deadline.
No Reason to Reopen the Case — Assange's Lawyer
Assange's lawyer, Per E. Samuelson, told broadcaster SVT that the Swedish prosecutor office's decision was surprising, as he saw no "reasoning" behind reopening the 10-year-old case, calling the move "embarrassing for Sweden". He noted that the case in Sweden is currently still not the defence's key priority.
"How that will happen now, I don't know. He has his hands full with, for him, much more important issues, namely avoiding being extradited to the US", he said.
At the same time, Samuelson added that despite being busy, Assange "is happy to cooperate with Sweden" and wants to be interviewed regarding the case, but fears that it could still be used to extradite him to the US.
'Chance to Clear Name' — WikiLeaks' Chief Editor
WikiLeaks' Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson sees the reopened case in Sweden as a chance for Assange to "clear his name" of rape accusations that have followed him since 2010. However, Hrafnsson slammed the political aspect, which, as he states, has always been associated with the criminal case.
"Since Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019, there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case", he said.
Hrafnsson further stressed that Assange had been ready to provide any details relating to the case for over six years before it was finally dropped in 2017.
'Great News' for Accuser — Alleged Victim's Lawyer
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for one of the Swedish women accusing Assange of sexual assault, said that the prosecutor's announcement came as "great news" for her and her client, explaining that it was a signal that "no one stands above the law". She added that her client, who has remained anonymous since 2010, "feels great gratitude" towards Sweden for reopening the case.
"She is very hopeful about getting restitution and we both hope that justice will win", Elisabeth Massi Fritz said.
The lawyer also called on the prosecution to make haste, as the statute of limitations deadline is approaching and it could take time to have Assange extradited to Sweden.
Origins of the Rape Case
Assange was accused of rape based on a complaint from two women, aged 25 and 35 years old, claiming that the WikiLeaks founder had sexually assaulted them during his visit to Sweden in 2010. The whistleblower denied the accusations, insisting that the sexual relations had been consensual. He argued that the case was politically motivated to have him extradited to the US due to WikiLeaks' activities.
After Sweden issued an Interpol warrant for him, Assange turned himself in to London in December 2010, but was later released on bail. A UK court ruled to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden in 2011, despite Assange's attempts to appeal the decision. He then applied for asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he spent the next seven years avoiding potential extradition to the US.
Swedish prosecutors had to drop three of the charges in 2015, as they had expired based on the statute of limitations, leaving only a lesser degree rape accusation, which is due to expire on 17 August 2020. Sweden later dropped the entire case in 2017, believing that Assange wouldn't be able to be prosecuted any time soon, as he was hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The WikiLeaks founder was stripped of his asylum status on 11 April 2019, leading to his immediate arrest by British police. He was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions. A UK court also received a request for the extradition of Assange to the US on the day of his arrest, where he is charged with allegedly conspiring with former Pentagon analyst Chelsea Manning to hack Department of Defence computers and steal classified documents.