Yesterday I had a brief telephone interview with my friend and fellow libel reform campaigner Mark Stephens as he was in a cab going to Wandsworth Prison to see his client Julian Assange.
Mark told me that Julian Assange is currently in the very same cell that was occupied by Oscar Wilde before the latter’s transfer to Reading Gaol. His client is not allowed to have any internet access, and nor has the library trolley come round. He is being kept in isolation, even though he is a model prisoner. He did have access to a television but this has now been removed (though he loathed having to watch British daytime television). All he has now is a wind-up radio.
I asked about the legal team. It consists of Mark and Jennifer Robinson at Finers Stephens Innocent. Also involved are QCs Geoffrey Robertson and Helena Kennedy, and specialist extradition advice is being provided by John Jones.
Mark agreed he was not himself a specialist extradition lawyer, though this is not his first extradition case. However, he does have a good criminal law background and indeed he was primarily a criminal lawyer before moving into media law.
What about the phrase “rape by surprise”, which has been criticised elsewhere as misleading? Mark said it was not coined by him, but was instead an English translation of the term which was used by the Swedish government in describing the relevant offence.
Why is Mark adopting the extraordinary litigation tactic of attacking the motives of the investigators and prosecutors in this case? He denied that he was making such any such attack, and that in fact he had no problem with the first prosecutor, who made the original decision to drop the case.
Mark also denied it was a tactic, and he emphasised that the circumstances behind this case were themselves extraordinary. The decision to renew the formal prosecution process after it was first abandoned, Mark maintained, was a clear example of political interference based on the electoral interests of the senior prosecutor involved. Mark said that it was correct to call this interference a “political stunt”. Moreover, the definition of “rape” in this case have been pushed beyond its proper limit by the prosecutors. Although Mark conceded he had been outspoken and critical on behalf of his client, it was the behaviour of the prosecutors which was outrageous.
In particular, Mark emphasised that the proper route all along would be for the prosecutors to meet with Julian. His client offered to do this in Sweden, and he would have been happy to have done it in London, either in person or by telephone, as long as information could be provided first as to the case against him. But the prosecutors refused this offer.
I asked why his client simply did not now go to Sweden in accordance with the extradition request? Would his client refuse in all circumstances to return to Sweden to meet with the prosecutors and face any charges?
It would appear the answers to these questions are not straightforward. Mark said that Julian Assange should know, at this stage, the case against him, explained in a language he understands. This simply has not happened yet, he emphasised, and Julian Assange is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Finally, I asked about the complainants, whose private lives and personal details have been published on the internet by supposed supporters of Julian Assange. Mark said that the complainants should have kept their anonymity, just as his client should have kept his. He added that Julian Assange does not support any attacks on the complainants, and nor does his client support the cyber-attacks on various websites.
Julian Assange returns to Westminster Magistrates' Court today for an extradition hearing. The case continues.
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