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Ambassador's rage doesn't dispel facts

Date

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, author, architecture critic and essayist

View more articles from Elizabeth Farrelly

<em>Illustration: Edd Aragon</em>

Illustration: Edd Aragon

"Swedish ambassador goes berserk over Assange,'' read Monday's Wiki-tweet. It rang a bell, as it bounced around the globe, for while most diplomats are polite to the point of somnambulism, my sole encounter with the Swedish ambassador had been distinguished by rage (his). This rage, rooted in WikiLeaks, had itself been Wikileaked.

Sven-Olof Petersson is Sweden's man in Yarralumla. By now he may be wishing he'd followed the advice I give my 13 year-old.

It's this. If you have something savage to say, sleep on it. Then, if it really must be said, pick up the phone. Say it in person. Shout it from the rooftops, if need be. But under no circumstances commit it to cyber-space. Cyber-speech, seemingly ethereal, is etched in stone.

Back story: last April I wrote a column about Julian Assange. ''It's quite clear,'' I said, ''that Assange is not guilty - not of rape, not of treason'', but it was more a logical deduction (from the definition of these things) than a claim to knowledge of the events. In particular, I wrote of my dismay at what can happen to speakers of truth, especially at the hands of those who pretend to uphold it.

It made the Swedish ambassador mad. Really mad. We now know it made him, by his own admission, out-of-control mad.

It was an opinion piece. And I did call the Swedish legal system ''impenetrable''. LOL. Yet there are facts here.

Assange had not been charged with any crime. The Swedish authorities had repeatedly refused even to question him in London, falsely saying it was illegal. Moreover, as Malcolm Turnbull told a university audience this year (contradicting Gillard), Assange had broken no Australian law. All this is still true.

Yet a European arrest warrant stands ready to whisk Assange to Sweden, where consensual sex without a condom can - for reasons I'll never understand - count as rape, where he can be locked in solitary without charge or extradited to America.

There, a grand jury - or secret military court - has been convened, again without charge. It can convict him, even apply the death penalty, without scrutiny or defence. Petersson insists ''a person risking the death penalty cannot be extradited'' but the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt - whom WikiLeaks claims is a US spy - repeatedly refuses to give this assurance.

Yet our government has given Assange minimal assistance. Despite what Jane Clifton-Bassett, the organiser of Thursday's candlelight vigil for Assange, calls this ''outrageous flouting of the law'', the government chooses ''to put the American alliance first, and an Australian citizen second''.

Petersson responded to my April story with an angry letter, published in the Herald. His ''facts'' were that the ''Swedish judicial system is transparent and independent'' and that Assange should have ''full confidence in the Swedish judicial process''. He would say that - right?

A second, angrier Petersson email came to me personally. Manfully resisting the urge to publish, I filed it, more fittingly, in the bin.

And forgot about it until, this week, the emails resurfaced, unexpurgated, along with Petersson's admission that his colleagues considered his missives extreme. ''But,'' he notes, ''I couldn't stop myself!''

In these now-public letters, Petersson accused me of harbouring a ''special contempt for Sweden''. (In fact, until then, I'd always wondered why Scandinavia was so much more civilised than we.) He derided me as an ignorant fantasist, a purveyor of ''any kind of rubbish'' and - worst of all - ''an architect and writer from Downunder''.

It's pretty funny. The mis-spelling, the splatter of exclamation marks and the eggy emotion sound more like some suburban troll than a high-order professional or diplomat.

The aggression is less amusing. This is how bullying works. After a while we start to anticipate, self-censor, evade the rage, like children tiptoeing around father.

This is ironic, since the Swedish case pivots on the ''ultra-feminism'' that many see as having colonised Swedish politics. This has not only shaped the unfair rape laws to which Assange, once extradited, would be subject, but also unites many key players.

All these are active members of the ultra-feminist Social Democrat party: the prosecutor Marianne Ny; the plaintiffs' lawyer Claes Borgstrom; his practice partner Thomas Bodstrom (the Swedish justice minister, 2000-06); the principal plaintiff Anna Ardin - who invited Assange to Sweden originally and wrote the notorious ''Seven Steps to Legal Revenge''; and the police officer Irmeli Krans to whom Ardin took the secondary plaintiff, Sofia Welin. Welcome to Sweden's so-called ''duckpond''.

But when a mere opinion maddens a potentate into uncontrolled aggression, you have to wonder: why so defensive? What are they hiding?

Petersson was right about one thing. I know little of the Swedish legal system. (I do know educated Swedish-Australians, like retired medic Martin Gelin, who reinforce my impression that it is convoluted - some say ''mediaeval'' - and, with its politically appointed lay judges, heavily politicised. They also say Petersson is an embarrassment who should be sent home.)

Assange has been effectively detained for two years without charge. His only sin was having unprotected sex (which, even my 13-year old knows, would render him as vulnerable to STDs as the women).

He has won a Walkley, the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. He came second in the Huffington Post's next head of the BBC poll (after Jeremy Paxman) and is regarded by many as the century's greatest journalist, with supporters including Mary Kostakidis, Julian Burnside, Geoffrey Robertson and Jemima Khan.

But even if Assange were, as some say, a zionist, cultist, narcissist, misogynist or Marxist - even all of these - he'd still be entitled to a fair and open trial.

There are genuine doubts as to whether this can happen in Sweden, and worse about the US trial. (With the imminent and sinister Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, its contents so secret they can't be disclosed for four years, we'll never exert pressure on the US.)

Australia must therefore demand a Swedish guarantee that Assange will not be sent to America. Otherwise he, and our own rights to truth, may end up naked in a cell like poor, sweet Bradley Manning.

The Assange vigil will be held tonight at 7pm on the Parliament House lawns, Canberra.

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Correction: In the original version of this story Martin Gelin's name was misspelt.

99 comments

  • I read an opinion piece by Naomi Klein a few months ago which suggested that Swedish women who make rape complaints are treated with as much indifference as women elsewhere.

    It was her contention that the fervour about this 'rape' is for violation of the body politic.

    Commenter
    Ross
    Location
    MALLABULA
    Date and time
    November 29, 2012, 9:34AM
    • Great column, Elizabeth. Every premise , every point , every word. Assange almost surely has a big ego , but which politician , judge and diplomat doesn't ? And if the Swedish ambassador has such contempt for this provincial backwater Downunder , he might ponder why his government sent him here.

      Commenter
      daniel
      Location
      rural nsw
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 9:49AM
      • LOL........+1

        Commenter
        Damian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 11:21AM
    • I'm in the "Assange is innocent till proven guilty" camp, but - to be fair to Sweden - "consensual sex without a condom" doesn't count as rape, as you seem to think. One of the accusations - correct or not - is that the sex was nonconsentual (since the woman was sleeping). Calling this rape may well go to far, but calling it "consentual sex" goes too far in the other direction.

      Commenter
      p
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 9:53AM
      • I speak from ignorance but would it not be difficult to achieve penetration without some postural accommodation on her part? I think it would be difficult to sleep through sex and it would seem to be difficult even to commence without some degree of consciousness on her part.

        Her level of consciousness may not have been sufficient for her to realise that there was no condom, but it would be difficult to say that sex was non-consensual.

        I am open to correction from those with experience in this area.

        Commenter
        Ross
        Location
        MALLABULA
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 10:15AM
      • @P: "calling [obviously non-consensual sex with a sleeping woman] rape may well go to [sic] far": are you serious?! How on earth can a woman (or anyone for that matter) consent to sex when they're sleeping? Short answer: they can't. If they can't consent, how can that possibly be called anything but rape?

        Commenter
        Andrew of Mornington
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 10:18AM
      • In response to "p", consensual sex without a condom in SE, becomes rape if the female tells the police that she had told him to wear one. Unless the intercourse was recorded, the Swedish rape law is so constructed that the female will ALWAYS be believed no matter what. A contradiction from the male will in these cases lack credibility and routinely be dismissed.
        S.W., the woman in question has officially stated that she was h a l f asleep = half awake.
        So I do feel that Elizabeth appear to be correct.

        Commenter
        Olofm
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 10:48AM
      • "Short answer: they can't. If they can't consent, how can that possibly be called anything but rape?"

        The fact that they've already had consensual sex and are sleeping together makes the notion of this being rape a bit ridiculous.

        Commenter
        Mathew
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 10:57AM
      • Sex with a sleeping woman? Is that even possible or just a male fantasy?

        Commenter
        Brad
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 11:07AM
      • The law is simple. Unless she specifically agreed, whilst capable of giving consent, it is otherwise rape. Certainly that is the law in the UK.

        Took many 'sleep creep' cases before the law was clarified.

        Commenter
        Liam B
        Location
        Perth
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 11:30AM

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