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Saturday, 21 August 2010

Rape Allegations and Due Process

News is breaking that Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been charged[* see below] with rape and molestation by Swedish prosecuting authorities.

The timing and nature of this news seems somewhat convenient for the US government.

But we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that it must be a smear.


There is reportedly a charge, and not just an allegation.

And there is presumably a complainant, or someone in respect of whom there is evidence behind the charge which has been made.

For us to assume too easily that the allegation "must" be false would thereby be to disbelieve the complainant or to deny that evidence.

It may even be to brand the complainant as a "liar" on the basis of our own prejudices and political values.


The better response to this emerging news is not to jettison our liberal value of taking allegations of rape seriously and treating the alleged victim with appropriate respect.

Instead, due process should be followed.


If it is a smear, then that will become apparent as the evidence is presented and tested.

And if it is not a smear, then we have not discredited the complainant or the evidence in advance.

The defendant should now have the presumption of innocence until proved guilty; and during this process, assumptions about culpability and credibility, either of the defendant or the alleged victim, should not be too readily made by the rest of us.

Any rape allegation should be taken seriously and properly investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted with due process.

And that includes this one.


__________________________

*"The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing." - Julian Assange

This was the only quote from someone directly involved I had when I posted the breaking story. I recall that CNN also used the word "charge" when I linked to it.

It now appears that Assange was wrong in using the word "charge" himself and that the word warrant was correct.





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29 comments:

Zeno said...

Precisely.

It might easily fit with a conspiracy theory - and it may well be - but that does not make it one.

We need to wait for the outcome of proper investigations and a possibly trial before we know.

Sandrine Lopez said...

You are, of course, quite right. And credit to you for taking the objective and balanced view that you are respected for. As a follower of WikiLeaks before the diaries were published, my initial response was, as WikiLeaks itself tweeted 'a dirty trick' but even before you commented I had to take the view that Julian Assange isn't superhuman but has foibles & weaknesses as any one of us - what IF he was in a situation were he might well be accused of rape (did the accuser say yes or not) or even might well be the kind of person who could do that. Not a pleasant view to take, but then neither is the possibility it's a deliberate smear, and who is behind it and why.

I would like to think the truth will out but as with all justice this may not be a swift or easy thing to prove. And one has to wonder how much muck will be thrown before some sticks - again, either way?

Crispin said...

My concern hinges around the following quote from your article:

"If it is a smear, then that will become apparent as the evidence is presented and tested."

I'm not so sure it will become apparent. I am very concerned that the public can't implicitly trust that due process is in fact taking place or that evidence has not been planted by known enemies of Assange who certainly have the ability to do so.

Rape is a very serious crime to be charged with and complainants should of course be treated seriously and with all due respect. I am not making any a priori assumption w.r.t his guilt or innocence. What concerns me is that we can't trust the legal process or evidence that will be presented.

I don't see any easy solution to this issue:
* it is no good blindly trusting that the legal process will uncover the truth in the face of incredibly powerful and influential enemies. It is well within their powers to plant convincing evidence and to corrupt process.

* we can't dismiss serious accusations out of hand simply because they are convenient for a powerful authority. There may be real victims and Assange may be a dangerous sexual predator.

Anyone have any great ideas how to resolve the above? I haven't. Maybe I'm just paranoid?

barton71 said...

It is very convenient though. The US have been threatening Assange since before the release of the documents, but were unable to stop him or wikileaks from publishing them. Then after they were published, there were more threats from the US, with other governments condemning the release.

After being unable to contact, or arrest Assange, we now get these allegations of rape, one of the most serious things anyone can be accused of. Not only that, the nature of the allegations means that they come from anonymous women, in a country which has some of the strictest rape laws in the world.

If these allegations are unfounded, then the names of these women must be made public, and the traditional press should investigate them thoroughly.

Roger Lancefield said...

The allegations of Assange's accusers will no doubt be taken seriously by the Swedish police and prosecutors.

Nevertheless, given the fact that Assange seems to have knocked Bin Laden off the top of the US government's Most Wanted list, his accusers simply could not have chosen a time better suited to fuel suspicions over conspiracy.

Neuroskeptic said...

"What concerns me is that we can't trust the legal process or evidence that will be presented."

Can we at least wait until the legal process starts before we judge it? Otherwise we're literally prejudiced in our opinions.

Sandrine Lopez said...

If we start picking holes in 'due process' before we've even got there, then we have nothing. We have to have some faith in the law, or we have anarchy, even if this blog shows plenty of instances where the law HAS been ineffectual or, at worst, completely wrong.

I'm sure Jack will keep his eye on the situation, and keep us appraised and/or enlighten us to what is right/wrong in future developments.

Anthony said...

On the issue of convenience, it is equally convenient for Assange that he be charged now - on the basis that he now has a large constituency of fans will be on his side regardless of the facts presented in court.

by Kimbo! said...

I have often thought that those accused (not convicted) should have the same right to privacy as the claimants. This would prevent the innocent suffering from "mud sticks" syndrome, and prevent others from using accusations as a weapon to beat their enemies. Only when guilt has been proved, should names be made public, unless the defendant chooses otherwise.

way2skptic said...

I agree with you largely but do correct me if I am wrong aren't large number of rape trials about word of one party against another. Forensic evidence only establishes if contact happened and in a lot of cases conviction depends on whether lawful consent was obtained.

Whether he is convict or acquitted it will always remain to be ammunition for people on one side of the wikileaks debate or the other.

The other interesting issue is this:

Would you change your mind on the allegations of war crimes exposed by wikileaks mean any less if Assange is a convicted rapist?

Digital Ignorance said...

I would have thought it would be "due process" to interview the accused before laying a charge down.

That is the primary concern for me over the validity of this case.

Crispin said...

"Can we at least wait until the legal process starts before we judge it? Otherwise we're literally prejudiced in our opinions."

I am indeed judging the process before anything has occurred and you're right to point it out.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that it is well within the power of those who oppose wikileaks to arrange evidence sufficient to persuade prosecutors and a jury. People have been successfully framed by groups much less powerful in the past. If he is tried and found guilty I'm not sure how we could ever be confident that it is not on false evidence. I simply can't think of evidence which could be presented to a court or to the public that could not have been arranged. I doubt many would contest that some of his opponents have the means, motive and opportunity to frame him highly convincingly if they were determined to do so.

Of course, this does not mean that he couldn't be genuinely guilty of rape and of course there must be an investigation. Complainants must be taken seriously.

My overall point is that this puts the Swedish legal system and any possible court in a very difficult situation to which I can't see any easy resolution.

Madam Miaow said...

And if it is true that the two women involved in the alleged assaults specifically said they did not want a prosecution?

Sandrine Lopez said...

Can one ask, being ignorant of Swedish laws regarding rape, which one comment here indicates is one of the strictist in the world, in order for an accusation to be become a legitimate charge, would the women have had to have submitted to a medical examination to prove, at the very least, sex had taken place? It was interesting the news postings indicated a charge of rape *and/or* molestation? The former could (assuming Julian Assange's innocence) be medically or forensically disproved but the latter - sexual abuse - would be more difficult to prove or disprove?

Also confused by:
Madam Miaow said...
"And if it is true that the two women involved in the alleged assaults specifically said they did not want a prosecution?"

Why charge if you don't want prosecution? Am I missing something here, please?

Crispin said...

According to several sources (BBC news 24, 3 websites I can't vouch for) the charges have been dropped and arrest warrant cancelled.

Geeb said...

Question: If Assange were to end up in Swedish custody, and if the charges were then dropped (or a trial resulted in a not guilty verdict), are there then any extradition agreements or similar that would result in him being handed over to the US authorities?

Hervé DuChat said...

While rape allegations should be taken seriously, clearly in this case, they were manufactured as a typical smear tactic. It is very common to try to discredit the whistleblower, and this is precisely what the US government has apparently done. Shameful! Next thing you know, they'll try to accuse Assange of being a paranoid schitzophrenic.

Sandrine Lopez said...

Hervé DuChat said...
While rape allegations should be taken seriously, clearly in this case, they were manufactured as a typical smear tactic. It is very common to try to discredit the whistleblower, and this is precisely what the US government has apparently done. Shameful! Next thing you know, they'll try to accuse Assange of being a paranoid schitzophrenic.


Conspiracy or no, we do not know for certain this a US Government smear, although the timing would conveniently indicate as such without further proof. I would now like to know if we can find out exactly the who, how and why of what is behind this all. I don't tend to believe in coincidence but want, in the same nature of wikiLeaks itself, the undiluted facts, not just opinions & repeated half-truths...

Crispin said...

@Hervé DuChat
"clearly in this case, they were manufactured as a typical smear tactic"

Surly we have to acknowledge that they may simply have been based on genuine suspicion, now diminished, dispelled or insufficiently evidenced.... I doubt we'll ever definitively know the details, that doesn't mean we can confidently assert it was a smear. We can certainly speculate, but we have to admit when we are speculating vs when we have strong evidence.

Neuroskeptic said...

"While rape allegations should be taken seriously, clearly in this case, they were manufactured as a typical smear tactic."

Well, if it was a smear, it was a ridiculous one given what's just happened.

Nothing about this is clear at this stage.

HenstridgeSJ said...

@Hervé DuChat

"Next thing you know, they'll try to accuse Assange of being a paranoid schitzophrenic."

No, the ultimate would be to accuse him of being a Liberal.

Sandrine Lopez said...

Go for a 'higher' initial charge of rape so a 'lesser' one of molestation/sexual abuse seems a *fair* compromise? Surely not?

Jamie said...

Re the update - the molestation charge is still active, but it's not an arrestable offence (as I understand it). So the charges haven't been dropped, but one of them - and the only one that the arrest warrant was for - has been.

Indyanhat said...

Well done way2skeptic , the only commenter so far that poses the real question here..Is his information ie the leaks any the less credible if he IS a rapist or not?

I do not care much if it is Jack the Riper who tells the bad stuff about something so long as it is true, in fact doesn't the USA give amnesty and protection to all sorts of heinous villains in return for their 'truthful testimony'.
Whether he is or isn't is a problem for him and the authorities to thrash out together. Given the veracity of his leaks so far I would incline to believe what more he has to say!

Steve Jones said...

I've no idea about the Swedish system, but I do recall the police, with some relish, announcing the arrest of Neil and Christine Hamilton on a very serious accusation of rape.

Personally, I think that the premature announcement of an arrest of this sort (note, not even a charge), is police grandstanding of a gross order. There are occasions where this might be in the public interest (for example, to get others to come forward), but there have been many people whose life has been blighted by this sort of approach.

Kim said...

Woah! Do you realise what you just said? Assange has been "charged with rape" and "There is reportedly a charge, and not just an allegation." WRONG! It wasn't a charge and nobody ever said it was. Even your update about "charges dropped" doesn't link to a page that even mentions the word "charge". Saying somebody has been charged with a serious offence when they haven't is defamatory.

You make it worse by saying that "For us to assume too easily that the allegation "must" be false would thereby be to disbelieve the complainant or to deny that evidence." By saying this you imply that there could be some validity in the charge/allegation. But in fact all there was seems to have been sufficient grounds to arrest for questioning. That's a VERY long way from a charge.

I don't think you understand the process: allegation --> reasonable suspicion --> power to arrest and therefore arrest warrant --> further evidence obtained by questioning --> charge. You've jumped right through the process and suggested that there was sufficient evidence to charge. There wasn't. That's a libel.

Niklas said...

As someone who is in Sweden and is bilingual in Swedish and English I think I need to correct some mistakes that have crept in to this thread and post.

1) As Kim says, Mr Assange was never charged with anything. On Friday evening the duty prosecutor issued a warrant for his arrest stating the higher of two levels of suspicion (warrants in Sweden state either that the suspect is "skäligen misstänkt" - reasonably suspected - or "misstänkt på sannolika skäl" - suspected for probable cause). On Saturday the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor took over the investigation, and on the basis of information not available to the first prosecutor on Friday decided to drop the suspicion of rape and thus cancelled the arrest warrant. This was explained on TV this morning by the Prosecution Authority press officer. In Sweden as in England no one can be charged with anything until they are brought before a court.

2) Given that it seemed that the police could not get in touch with Mr Assange (though he's surprised by this and says they should have been able to contact him), it was natural for them to issue a warrant on Friday (when they had reason to believe he had raped someone). After all, what would people say in any other case if the police had kept it under their hat and a rapist had escaped from the country? So the fact that he was identified was unavoidable.

3) Mr Assange is still suspected for "molestation" (a Swedish crime loosely equivalent to harrassment under English law, thus not necessarily sexual in nature). But as a commenter says that in itself is not considered reason to lock someone up in a free country like Sweden.

4) There is as yet no evidence (beyond the fact that Mr Assange is a thorn in the side of the US government) that the allegations are a smear. One of the women (the one accusing him of molestation) has stated to a newspaper that there is no conspiracy behind their reports to the police: http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article7654860.ab

5) The rumour that the two women did not want Mr Assange to be prosecuted is completely unfounded and was started by an anonymous source in Expressen (the tabloid that broke the story). In the interview I've linked to above the woman categorically rejects the idea that they were unwilling to report the alleged attacks out of fear: "It is wrong to say that we were frightened of Assange and that we hadn't wanted to report him for that reason. He's not violent and I do not feel threatened by him."

I hope that all commenters will respect the principles of the Jack of Kent blog. If you want to make wild speculations please do so elsewhere. I also hope that the blog post can be corrected so that it no longer says that Mr Assange was charged with anything.

Niklas said...

3) Mr Assange is still suspected for "molestation" (a Swedish crime loosely equivalent to harrassment under English law, thus not necessarily sexual in nature). But as a commenter says that in itself is not considered reason to lock someone up in a free country like Sweden.

4) There is as yet no evidence (beyond the fact that Mr Assange is a thorn in the side of the US government) that the allegations are a smear. One of the women (the one accusing him of molestation) has stated to a newspaper that there is no conspiracy behind their reports to the police: http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article7654860.ab

5) The rumour that the two women did not want Mr Assange to be prosecuted is completely unfounded and was started by an anonymous source in Expressen (the tabloid that broke the story). In the interview I've linked to above the woman categorically rejects the idea that they were unwilling to report the alleged attacks out of fear: "It is wrong to say that we were frightened of Assange and that we hadn't wanted to report him for that reason. He's not violent and I do not feel threatened by him."

I hope that all commenters will respect the principles of the Jack of Kent blog. If you want to make wild speculations please do so elsewhere. I also hope that the blog post can be corrected so that it no longer says that Mr Assange was charged with anything.

Jack of Kent said...

"The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing."

This was the only quote from someone directly involved I had when I posted the breaking story. I recall that CNN also used the word "charge" when I linked to it.

It now appears that Assange was wrong in using the word "charge" himself.