Sweden Drops Julian Assange's Sexual Assault Charges, But The WikiLeaks Founder Is Still In Exile
The embattled founder of WikiLeaks received a slight reprieve this week, though he still faces arrest and possible extradition to the United States. Sweden dropped its sexual assault case against Julian Assange, the Australian journalist who shattered international news when he published Chelsea Manning's classified documents and videos from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through his WikiLeaks platform. Assange is currently living at the Ecuadoran embassy in London; he has not left the embassy's premises in three years, fearing extradition back to Sweden, who in turn may extradite the journalist to the United States for prosecution.
According to The Guardian, Swedish prosecutors announced Thursday they were abruptly ending their investigation into two sexual assault allegations against Assange, because the deadline to bring charges against the Australian journalist had passed. A third sexual assault allegation will expire next week. "Now that the limitation period has passed for some of the [alleged] crimes I am forced to discontinue the preliminary investigation in these parts," Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny said in a statement released Thursday. "This means that the investigation of the events is left unfinished because the suspect has not been heard, which I regret."
Although the sexual assault case against Assange was dropped, he's not off the hook just yet. Assange still faces a rape allegation, which comes with a more serious penalty. The statue of limitation on pressing rape charges against Assange doesn't expire until 2020, The Guardian reported.
In a statement released Thursday on the Justice4Assange website and Twitter account, the WikiLeaks founder said he was "disappointed" in the Swedish prosecutors, because they never came to the Ecuadoran embassy in London to interview him:
I am extremely disappointed. There was no need for any of this. I am an innocent man. I haven’t even been charged. From the beginning I offered simple solutions. Come to the embassy to take my statement or promise not to send me to the United States. This Swedish official refused both. She even refused a written statement ... This is beyond incompetence.
"I would like to thank the many people in Sweden and the UK who have been very understanding of the wrong which has been done to me and my family," Assange added.
Assange's defense committee, Susan Benn and Gavin MacFadyen, added in a statement that Assange will continue to be confined behind the walls of the London embassy despite this new development:
This is a severe disappointment. Assange has never been charged in Sweden or the UK. ... He has been confined to the premises of Ecuador’s embassy in London, unable to see his family, because the UK and Sweden refuse him safe passage to Ecuador. This collapse of part of the Swedish preliminary investigation in no way allows him to leave the embassy of Ecuador. He cannot leave, because of the risk of arrest by the United Kingdom on behalf of the United States. The UK has stated its intention to arrest Assange even if the Swedish preliminary investigation is completely withdrawn.
But Swedish prosecutors contend the Ecuadoran embassy obstructed the investigation. Ny said in her statement Thursday that the embassy never granted prosecutors access to the embassy in London, thus making it impossible to interview Assange in-person.
For now, Assange will remain behind the walls of the embassy in which he has made home for the last three years. U.K. officials have repeatedly stated that authorities would arrest the WikiLeaks founder if he steps out the doors of the embassy.