December 20, 2010 / 9:15 PM / 9 years ago

Q+A: The case for and against Julian Assange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may have been freed from a London jail, but he’s still facing extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sex case.

Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish inquiry is a smear or a conspiracy to shut down WikiLeaks. Assange’s lawyers assert the Swedish women who made allegations against him may be out for revenge and sought to cash in on their stories.

Here is an outline of key issues in the case:

Q: What’s the basis for the Swedish investigation?

A: According to Swedish authorities, two Swedish women, Miss A. and Miss W., allege that Assange engaged in sexual misconduct during a visit to Sweden in August.

According to translations of statements the women gave to Swedish investigators which Reuters has reviewed, Miss A. alleged that during an encounter on August 14, Assange tried to have sex with her without a condom. Subsequently he put on a condom and the couple had consensual sex. But Miss A. claims the condom later broke or was torn open by Assange. Miss A. also claimed that on August 18, Assange exposed himself to her and rubbed against her, an act which Swedish authorities characterized as an incident in which Assange “deliberately molested” her.

In her statement to police, Miss W. reported that on August 17, she and Assange had consensual sex with a condom. She alleges he later had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.

Miss W.’s brother told investigators that his sister said “she didn’t want to report Julian if he went and got tested for sexually transmitted diseases.” A friend of the two women told police they told him that when they initially went to police they “didn’t intend to have Julian charged with anything.”

Q: If his accusers acknowledge their encounters with Assange began consensually, why is he facing allegations of rape?

A: On the English-language website maintained by the Swedish prosecution authority, Swedish authorities in numerous official communiques have described elements of the charges against Assange as sexual coercion, sexual molestation and rape. In Swedish law, there are three levels of seriousness of the rape charge; the allegations against Assange relate to the least-serious level, which upon conviction could lead to a maximum four years imprisonment.

A weekend prosecutor who reviewed the women’s complaints initially issued both rape and molestation charges against Assange. The rape charge was dropped the next day by a higher-ranking prosecutor, but reinstated a few days later by one of Sweden’s highest-ranking prosecutors.

Q: What about claims that text messages undermine the women’s stories?

A: During bail proceedings, one of Assange’s lawyers told a London court his Swedish lawyer had been shown text messages in which his accusers indicated an interest in obtaining “money by going to a tabloid newspaper and were motivated by other matters including a desire for revenge.”

But in a statement to Swedish investigators, a co-worker of Miss W. said that on the night of the alleged incident between Assange and her colleague, Miss W. had sent the co-worker “a lot of texts ... that were not positive. There had been bad sex and Julian had not been nice.”

The co-worker did say that she remembered Miss W. talking about going to a newspaper after Assange himself had spoken to the media, but that “this was just something she said and had no intention of doing.” The co-worker said Miss W. had been contacted by an American newspaper and had “joked that she should get well-paid.” No copies of the women’s alleged Tweets or text messages have surfaced in public.

Q: What evidence is there of a “smear” campaign?

A: Swedish officials and people close to Assange’s accusers deny any political motivation or that anyone — particularly including the United States government — has pressured them or influenced them to go after Assange.

While top American officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have said WikiLeaks activities are under investigation, U.S. and British law enforcement sources say they are unaware of any preparations for an imminent extradition case against Assange. Legal experts say that there are serious obstacles to charging Assange under existing U.S. espionage laws, and that it is possible no American charges against him will ever be filed.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Eric Walsh

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